It all started when South Korean Song-Hee Kim joined the Duramed FUTURES Tour this year as the first player to take advantage of the Tour's new minimum age requirement of 17. Then the needle moved again when In-Bee Park of Las Vegas, also 17, joined the Tour three weeks ago -- the same week that Kim won her first professional title.
Angela Park of Torrance, Calif., became the third 17-year-old player this season to make her pro debut. She did it last week in Frisco, Texas, following her long-time junior and amateur archrival In-Bee Park to a new level of professional competition. The two have played against each other in American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tournaments since they were 14, and for Angela, In-Bee has always been the player who pushed her to improve.
'We're friends and In-Bee has helped me become a better player,' said Angela Park, who was born in Brazil to Korean parents and moved to California when she was eight years old. 'But this all started back when my dad cut out a news story about In-Bee and put it on the refrigerator. I knew I'd have to beat her someday.'
That hasn't always been easy, and it didn't happen last week at the Power of a Dream FUTURES Golf Classic in Frisco. In her second tournament as a pro, In-Bee tied for 10th at 212 (-1) on the strength of a three-under-par score of 68 in the final round. Song-Hee and Angela both shot one-over-par final-round scores of 72 to tie for 13th at even-par 213.
But Angela did manage to edge out In-Bee when the two played their final tournament as amateurs on a sponsor's exemption at the LPGA's Kraft Nabisco Championship last month. In-Bee tied for 62nd, while Angela tied for 15th.
'Even at the Kraft Nabisco, I did exactly what I always do and my routine was the same,' said Angela, who lost in the 2005 semifinals of the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship to eventual champion, Morgan Pressel. 'I was really nervous when I had to go to the press room and my hands were sweaty, but it felt special that they were interested in me and how I played.'
Truthfully, many who have followed the successful amateur career of Angela Park are interested in how this new chapter unfolds in her golf career. The senior at Torrance High School, who carries a 3.5 grade point average and is completing an independent study on the road for her high school diploma, was a fixture on the junior circuit. In November 2005, her high school golf team won the California state high school championship and Park finished second individually. Even after the summer tournament season, she won the Robert Trent Jones Junior Championship in Alabama by 10 shots, the Polo Junior Classic match-play tournament in Sea Island, Ga., the Dixie Amateur in Florida, and the Junior Orange Bowl in Miami. She made the cut on a sponsor exemption last month at the LPGA's Safeway International at Superstition Mountain, Ariz., and her performance at the Nabisco served as the curtain call on an extraordinary amateur career.
'I don't regret anything and I played my heart out in every tournament,' said Park. 'I prepared myself well and set my goal to finish in the top 20 at the Kraft Nabisco. I was a little surprised that I pulled it off.'
But Park has been pulling off sparkling finishes for a long time.
'When I first saw her, she was 11 years old and competing with 14-year-olds,' said Duramed FUTURES Tour member Stella Lee, 22, of Seoul, Korea, who tied for 10th in Frisco last week. 'Angela was more mature than other kids her age. But for players like her, age is just a number. When I see young people doing well, I think it's a motivation for everybody to practice harder.'
Second-year Tour member Christine Boucher of Quebec, Canada, said she didn't have the courage to turn pro as a teenager. 'It takes a lot of guts to come out here and play well and to achieve what you want to do,' she said. 'Angela is really consistent and she doesn't miss any greens, no matter which club she has in her hands. It's pretty amazing.'
Even her coach, Don Brown, director of instruction at Harbor Practice Center in Wilmington, Calif., marvels when the teen beats him and his buddies most of the time.
'I took her to Riviera Country Club and she played from the white tees and shot a 71,' said Brown, who has worked with Angela for five years. 'And in a recent match against me, she was nine-under after 14 holes and shot a 63. She can really stripe her irons. I've been impressed with her for years.'
Of course, with good grades and good golf skills, Park received scholarship offers from such schools as the University of Southern California and UCLA the minute coaches were allowed by NCAA guidelines to contact her. Park weighed the decision to play college golf against turning professional. Her father asked what was the goal in her life and Park made her choice.
'That decision came to me very easily because I knew what I wanted,' she said. 'I think I made the right decision. I can go to college whenever I want.'
Brown wanted his young student to give college golf a try, but she had already made up her mind.
'I think when she saw Paula Creamer and Julieta Granada do well on the LPGA Tour, it made her think she could do it, too,' said Brown. 'She had played with those two a lot.'
It also mattered that her old friend In-Bee had also decided to bypass college and move right to the pros. The two talked about their respective decisions to turn professional while they were at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. They even talked about meeting each other in the final pairing on Sunday at the major championship.
'She's going to be good as a pro, just like she was in the juniors,' said In-Bee of her friend. 'Angela is a really solid, very consistent player. She's the same age as I am and we're going to see each other a lot. It will be really fun.'
And for golf fans, it will be fun to watch this budding rivalry that is destined to take on a new dimension during the 2006 Duramed FUTURES Tour season. It will be Park vs. Park, teen youth vs. Tour experience, and fearlessness times three. With a clean canvas before them to create anything they like during this rookie season, the potential is unlimited for what these young pros can accomplish.
'I think it can only be a good thing for both In-Bee and Angela, especially as long as they both can keep improving,' said Brown.
How does Angela Park feel about the attention she has received by turning professional and how will that pressure affect her and the game she has loved since age nine?
'I block out pressure and I'm not going to get caught up satisfying other people's needs,' she said. 'I know golf will change now that I'm a pro, but every time I watch pros play golf on TV, I think they take it way too seriously. You can't think about how much that four-footer is worth and you can't chase the money. You have to let the money chase you. And you have to manipulate the pressure and make it your own.'
Park admires top-ranked Annika Sorenstam for the way she has set goals in her career and hopes to emulate the Swedish star's methods.
'If you have no goal, there's no journey,' Park said. 'And when you do have a goal, you're not just going with the flow. If I didn't think I could win, I'd still be at home going to school and watching TV.'
Park will graduate on time this year with her traveling classroom assignments, but she will miss her class's graduation on June 21, as she plays Tour events in Ohio and Illinois. She was given permission by her father that she could fly back home for her graduation, but Park declined.
'That was my decision because my life is about golf right now and I know there will be some sacrifices,' she said. 'I was brought up to do the best I can at everything I do and I think it would be better for me to be prepared for the tournaments I enter.'
That's not exactly the answer most 17-year-olds would have when it comes to the milestone of marching at graduation and turning the mortarboard tassel with their peers. But then again, neither is Park's reason for loving golf.
'I love the frustration of golf,' she said. 'It's almost like life. You can't always be happy or satisfied and it's a constant challenge. If it were easy, everyone would be good at it. Playing good, playing bad -- that's the fun of it all.'
And watching the professional career unfold for this teen talent will be even more enjoyable for anyone who believes that records are made to be broken.