Women's Open spotlights rising star in Park

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BEDMINSTER, N.J. – This U.S. Women’s Open looked as if it were going to be pulled apart at the seams at week’s start.

With players caught in the middle of a tug of war between social activists enraged that the championship was being played on a course owned by President Donald Trump and with the USGA committed to defending its turf, the championship practically groaned amid the strain before the first shots were struck.

This U.S. Women’s Open was so divisively configured, but that’s what made Sunday’s ending so surprisingly unifying.

So jarringly harmonious.

With South Korea’s Sung Hyun Park being whisked through a passageway to scoring after virtually sealing her victory, she looked up to see the last extraordinary scene in this surreal week.

Park looked above to see President Trump leap out of his seat in his private box to race to the window above her. She looked up to see the President of the United States in his bright red “Make America Great Again” cap enthusiastically applaud her and wave to her with a wide, approving smile.

The president may love America, but he loves golf, too.

And as infuriating as that may be to the activists lined up against, him, he loves women’s golf.

So President Trump stood like everyone else, cheered like everyone else, and let Park know how much he admired the way this rising new international star dissected his prized course with her flawless finish.


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“Congratulations to Sung Hyun Park on winning the 2017 @USGA #USWomensOpen,” he later tweeted.

Park beamed with the Harton S. Semple Trophy afterward.

“I still cannot believe that it is actually happening,” Park said through a translator. “I almost feel like I'm floating on a cloud in the sky.”

Park was grateful for the way the American galleries at Trump National embraced her.

“I recognize the fans who flew in from Korea to cheer me at this tournament, and also the great Americans who live around here, they were so gracious and hospitable, providing me Korean food day after day so I could nourish myself and gain strength,” Park said through a translator. “I also like to thank my fans here in the United States.”

Park, 23, is already a superstar in South Korea, where she dominated the Korean LPGA Tour before joining the American-based tour this year as a rookie.

Now Park looks poised to challenge for the Rolex world No. 1 ranking with the top of the women’s game looking so wide open.

With her breakthrough victory Sunday, making her first LPGA title a major championship, Park will crack back into the top 10 in the world rankings. She started the week at No. 11.

Park has so many nicknames, all tributes to her star power.

Back in South Korea, she is known as “Dak Gong,” which is roughly translated as “Shut up and attack!”

Park did just that on Sunday, posting a bogey-free 5-under-par 67 to come from three shots back to win.

At 11 under overall, Park finished two shots ahead of 17-year-old amateur Hye-Jin Choi (71), who shared the lead with Park until pushing her tee shot at the 16th into the water.

Park knows Choi’s pain, but she knows sweet redemption, too.

Needing a birdie at CordeValle to get into a playoff at the U.S. Women’s Open last year, Park pulled her approach into the water at the 72nd hole in a bid to reach the green in two. She ended up tying for third.

Park said that memory came rushing back at the 18th Sunday, where Trump National’s closing green is hugged by water.

“That was a good experience that I had last year, and I was able to garner the championship this year,” Park said.

Park’s other nickname in South Korea is “Namdalla,” which means “I’m different.”

American LPGA players could see that right off, but they have come up with their own nickname for her here.

“Her nickname is Tiger Woods on this tour,” said David Jones, Park’s caddie. “That kind of says it all. I don’t need to say more than that.”

Jones, notably, was the college roommate of Ricky Elliott, Brooks Koepka’s caddie. Koepka won the U.S. Open last month.

If Park was going to become a Tiger-like figure of the LPGA, Jones knew she needed to put in some serious work on her short game. She did coming into this week, and, wow, did it pay off.

Jones said Park didn’t win the U.S. Women’s Open with her 67 Sunday. He said she won it with her 73 on Thursday.

“She was playing as bad as I have ever seen her,” Jones said. “She was nothing short of horrendous, but she turned a 77 into a 73.”

Jones said she did it with all the work she put into her short game coming into the U.S. Women’s Open.

Park is her own coach, and Jones said she fixed her own short game prepping for this championship.

While Park is a power player, one of the longest hitters on tour, Jones said she won the U.S. Women’s Open with that fortified new short game.

“Her chipping was out of this world,” Jones said.

Park left Trump National showered with the cheers of golf fans here.

She left with President Trump cheering her as heartily as anyone else.