LPGA winner Park In-bee driven more by pursuit of Olympic berth than milestone
SEOUL, March 29 (Yonhap) — By winning the Kia Classic in California on the weekend, LPGA Hall of Famer Park In-bee reached career win No. 21, four shy of matching the mark for most wins by a Korean golfer, set by the retired legend Pak Se-ri.
Park, 32, is part of a generation of golfers who picked up the sport after watching Pak take the LPGA Tour by storm as a rookie in 1998. During that monumental season, Pak won two major championships.
While acknowledging Pak’s impact on her career, Park said trying to catch Pak isn’t what motivates her the most.
Park, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist, is more focused on having a chance to defend that title in Tokyo this year.
“I am not looking to beat someone’s record. I’m never playing golf for that reason,” Park said at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California, on Sunday (local time), after her four-shot victory over Amy Olson and Lexi Thompson.
“The good motivation for me is obviously now the Olympics,” Park continued. “I knew that the Olympics was going to happen (this year), and it really motivates me, trying to prepare myself at my best so I can represent the country.”
Park was a somewhat surprise Olympic champion in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, having entered the tournament after a quiet stretch on the LPGA Tour. In the leadup to Tokyo, Park sent a message to the rest of her competition that she’ll be ready to defend that gold.
The top-15 golfers in the world rankings at the end of June will be eligible for the Olympics, with no more than four players per country. At No. 4, Park is the third-highest South Korean in the world rankings now, behind only No. 1 Ko Jin-young and No. 2 Kim Sei-young. Trailing Park is No. 8 Kim Hyo-joo.
“Trying to qualify myself to getting into the Olympics is actually not as easy as like winning a tournament,” Park said. “You have to play really well for four years after the Olympics is done, and obviously you have to be playing best at the time. But I think I am getting close. I wouldn’t say I’m safe but getting close to my goal. I’m happy with that.”
Park made sure to pay tributes to Pak and thanked Pak for blazing the trail for her and other young Korean golfers to take their talents overseas.
“She started everything. She gave a lot of courage to all the women’s golfers in Korea that you can compete out on the LPGA Tour,” Pak said. “That’s really important, and that’s driving a lot of players to come out to the U.S. and try for the LPGA Tour, and compete among the best players in the world. Being able to do things that’s following her steps is always a great honor.”