By THE NATION
The 32-year-old from the Republic of Korea survived a four-hole playoff with countrywomen Hye-Jin Choi and So Yeon Ryu to win the 2020 ISPS Handa Vic Open at -8 overall. It is Park’s first victory since the 2013 Manulife Financial LPGA Classic and also comes just months after she nearly quit the game rather than face a trip to LPGA Q Series.
“I wasn't going to Q-School because I thought this is enough. But I tried the Q-School, made the Q-School, finished second,” said Park, who now makes her home in Los Angeles. “That kind of gave some other confidence. And then I just want to (have) the rookie-year feeling, you know? Back to refreshed.”
Park started the day at -9, three strokes off the 54-hold lead held by Ayean Cho. Just as on Saturday, winds increased throughout the day and as the final group of Cho, Madelene Sagstrom and Alena Sharp fell back, Park, Ryu and Choi surged to the top of the leaderboard. Choi’s early 3-under 69 gave her the clubhouse lead at –8. Some 30 minutes later, Park and Ryu forced the second three-person playoff of the season. Park birdied the par-5 18th to pull into the playoff, while Ryu got up and down for par after her tee shot went out of bounds.
On the first playoff hole, Park just missed a 6-foot eagle putt that would have captured the win. On the following hole, Ryu missed her birdie putt to drop out of the playoff. After two more birdies, Choi’s tee shot went into the trees and her punch-out found the opposite hazard. Park ultimately two-putted for par and a hard-fought victory.
“I didn't really watch the leaderboards, so until the 17th I didn't know what my spot was and realized I was really close,” said Park. “So I try my best 18 holes and luckily made a birdie and I got a chance and keep grinding.”
Cho entered the round three strokes ahead of the field but stumbled to a final-round 9-over 81 to finish T16. Sagstrom also shot 81 and finished T20, while Sharp’s 5-over 77 was still enough to notch a top-10 finish.
HEE YOUNG PARK’S #DRIVEON STORY – FROM NEARLY QUITTING TO WINNING IT ALL
In August 2013, Hee Young Park was 15th in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. This week, she entered the ISPS Handa Vic Open 191st, a steep fall for the two-time LPGA Tour champion. Coming off 2019, a season she called her worst year ever, Park admitted that she nearly put her clubs away for good. Life had changed. She was happily married to Joojong Joe, a K-Pop music executive. Priorities were different. Golf wasn’t necessarily high on the list.
“I married and it was really busy (with a) different life,” said Park. “I'm married and I have more family now, a housewife and golf and a lot of things going on.”
It got so bad that in her 12th year on Tour, she had to go back to Q Series. She admits – she didn’t want to make the trip to Pinehurst. But her husband, ever supportive, convinced her to give it one last go. Eight rounds later and she finished second, regaining full LPGA Tour status. And she quickly paid off on that hard work, earning a win that she dedicated to all her support back home in Korea and California.
“(This is) payback to my family and husband, and then I think this is pay back for everything,” said Park. “I'm getting old compared to other Korean girls on the LPGA and they keep grinding. Because I made it, I won the event, and I’m just giving back to inspire to other young golfers.”
SO YEON RYU PLEDGES GENEROUS BRUSHFIRE DONATION
She was obviously disappointed with failing the close out the win, but So Yeon Ryu found many more positives than negatives in her T2 finish. “After I finished my first round, I didn't expect I was going to be in a playoff, or that I was going to be in contention because I was quite far back off from the leader,” said the 29-year-old two-time major champion. “The leader was like 8 under or something and I was only 1 under. Considering that, I finished pretty strong.”
Despite failing to close out the victory, Ryu is a winner in Australia. The South Korean pledged to donate half her winnings from both the ISPS Handa Vic Open and the ISPS Handa Australian Women’s Open to brushfire relief efforts in Australia.
“I feel like even though I'm Korean and even though I spent a lot of time in America, I feel like Australia's like my second home,” Ryu said. “I have a lot of Australian staff; my coach is Australian, my physio's Australian and I'm surrounded by a lot of Aussies. I came to Australia quite a lot to do winter training since I was 18. I love Australia, you know, food, wine, coffee, but most importantly people are so nice.
“I feel like without having that experience in Australia, I couldn't be who I am these days, so I always really think about what Australia has been giving to me. Then I saw what happened in the bushfire, I was like, I want to do something. I just had to promise myself I'm going to play really well. I already promised myself I was going to donate half of the prize money. So, that was my motivation to play well, to donate more money.
“This is not just about me,” Ryu said. “I hope I can be the inspiration to other people because it already has been almost a month, maybe people might forget about it, so hopefully people keep thinking about this and keep willing to help Australia.”
CME GROUP CARES CHALLENGE – SCORE 1 FOR ST. JUDE
The CME Group Cares Challenge is a season-long charitable giving program that turns aces into donations. CME Group donated $20,000 for each hole-in-one made on the LPGA Tour in 2019, with a minimum guaranteed donation of $500,000 to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
In Friday’s second round, Jing Yan made the third hole-in-one of the 2020 season, acing the 154-yard third hole of the Beach Course with a 7-iron. It was her fourth career hole-in-one and first in a competitive round, and brought the season total to $60,000 donated.
The 2019 LPGA Tour season saw 32 aces from 31 different players, for a total of $620,000 donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This more than covers the average cost of $425,000 needed to treat a pediatric cancer patient.
Staged at 13th Beach Golf Links on Australia’s Bellarine Peninsula, men and women play on the same courses, at the same time, for equal prize money of $1.1 million USD. For the second consecutive year, the ISPS Handa Vic Open is jointly sanctioned by the LPGA Tour, the ALPG, the European Tour and the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia.
A field of 144 men and 144 women will play one round on each of the first two days across the Beach and Creek Courses. After the second round, the field will be cut to the leading 60 professionals plus ties for both men and women. A second cut will be made after the third round to the leading 35 players plus ties for both men and women. The third and fourth rounds will be conducted on the Beach Course.