When Annie Park was debating whether or not to become a professional golfer, her mother uttered the words she’ll never forget.
“You’ll never know when you’re ready,” Ann Park told her. “By the time you’re ready, you’ll be in your late 20s. You don’t know when that time will be.”
Park departed from General Douglas MacArthur High School a few months early, pursuing a life in golf. She traveled across the country, attending the University of Southern California (USC) and participating in one of the toughest women’s golf conferences in America, the Pac-12.
The Levittown native soared through the NCAA, capturing a conference championship in her first season with the Trojans. Shortly thereafter, Park took home the Division I individual women’s golf title by a whopping six strokes, propelling USC to the overall national championship. When the golf season ended, she earned the Honda Sports Award for the best female college golfer in America.
“I was hesitant in high school as to whether I wanted to turn professional or go to college,” the younger Park said. “USC had a great athletic program and they offered me a scholarship if I graduated earlier. So I graduated in December 2012 and started my first semester in January 2013, so it was a weird transition for me because I didn’t go to high school graduation or have the summer off in between. I was done with high school in December and started college in January.”
The accelerated route proved to be worthwhile for Park. However, after some limited success, she left the Trojans at the end of her junior year.
“Going from a college player to a professional, people say they don’t know if they’re ready to turn pro,” she said.
Park was used to the pressure, though. She began playing golf when she was just 8 years old with her mother’s guidance. The two would travel to Flushing each day, hitting the driving range just for fun.
Time management became a priority as she participated in plenty of extracurricular activities, including a Korean culture club, playing instruments and dancing, all while attending school. However, she didn’t like golf too much at first.
“To be frank, I didn’t like playing golf until I played my first golf event, where I finished third,” Park said. “What got me into it was the competitive sport part of it. I started playing in more golf events and traveling, and that’s when I knew I wanted to play this professionally. I had to choose between golf and playing instruments because I was traveling for those performances, too.”
So when Park rose to the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour, it was no surprise that she managed her time and the pressure quite well.
“The biggest thing for me is when I focus on my own game, I know I have hot rounds in me where I can shoot very low and there are days where I’m not going to shoot low,” she said. “There are rough days, and that’s the way golf is. You have 36 holes and if you’re on the cut line, you don’t have time to mope around. You need to play well the next day to make the cut.”
That mentality is what helped Park capture her first national victory at Galloway, NJ’s ShopRite LPGA Classic in 2018. The triumph, she said, was one she needed in order to continue her professional career.
“That whole year, I had conditional status,” Park said. “I lost my status in 2017 and I was going to quit golf. I didn’t want to play the sport anymore.”
That’s when her sister Bora said, “Why don’t you just give it more than 100 percent? If it’s not what you want to do by the end of the year, at least you’ll know you gave it your best.”
“Going into 2018, I knew I just wanted to just play,” Park said. “I was giving my very best in each round, but I pretty much zoned out, knowing I wanted to get my status back. I knew I had to play well. ShopeRite happened and I just wanted to keep playing my best in each round so I could keep working my way up the leaderboard and secure my LPGA card again. I ended up winning.”
The triumph was Park’s first LPGA victory, and it’s one that is inspiring her to continue striving for the top. Her struggles on the course inspired her to do better, and the momentum continues to this day.
“I have so much more in me that I didn’t even know,” Park said. “I didn’t know I had so much fire to get out. Every new season, I learn more about me as a person and me as a player. Going into this season, I want to play really well, have my best season, beat my record from the past and think of new ways to be my best. One thing I’ve learned from 2018 is to just keep going for the prize.”
Besides Park’s hunger to win on the LPGA Tour, she also has a new goal that she’s striving for.
Golf, which hadn’t been on the Olympics slate since 1904, returned to the international stage at Rio de Janeiro in 2016. With the Tokyo Olympics rapidly approaching, Park would love to represent America on the golf course. Even if it doesn’t come this year, she would love to participate in the future.
“If the day comes, I’d like to play well enough to get into the Olympics,” she said.
As the hectic LPGA takes off, Park is ready for any challenge that comes her way.
“Because I’ve struggled with my golf game, whether I’m not hitting well or putting well, I’ll try to make it work,” she said of her perseverance. “Going through injuries and coming back from them, I’ve had some ups and downs. When I experience a down, coming back up is my strongest suit.”