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18 holes of memories for new Hall of Famer Park

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SAMMAMISH, Wash. – Inbee Park marched more than 18 holes to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame Thursday at the KPMG Women’s Championship.

She marched through a lifetime of memories.

A dutiful daughter, Park listened when her father, Gun Gyu, offered some advice in the morning before she headed out to start the round that would meet the final requirement she needed to enter the LPGA Hall of Fame. He told her it was poetic that she would play 18 holes, because it had been 18 years since he first put a club in her hands back in their native South Korea. He told her to remember what went into each year of the journey as she played her way to the day’s final putt.

“It feels very special because it starts back to when I just started playing golf, watching a lot of players on TV and thinking that I wanted to be there,” Park said. “I wanted to be on the LPGA tour ... I wanted to be up with the greatest players in history.”

Park met the 27-point requirement needed to make it into the most difficult Hall of Fame in sports to qualify for last year, but she needed to make 10 starts this year to meet the 10-year membership requirement. When she tapped in her last putt Thursday at Sahalee Country Club, she officially became the youngest player to be inducted in the LPGA Hall of Fame. At 27, she reached the pinnacle of her sport.

The memories that came flooding back, Park said, helped her appreciate what a Hall of Fame career really encompasses.

“It’s a great feeling because it's not just about major championships or winning tournaments,” she said. “It's not just about the smiles that are in a career. It's about the tears. It's about the frustration. It's about the happiness. It's about the success, everything.”

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Let the record show a final bogey left Park shooting a 1-over-par 72, a score she could be proud of given how tough Sahalee was playing and how difficult inflammation in her left thumb has made it for her to play this year. There were fears these last steps into the Hall of Fame could be an agonizing march because of her injury, but Park rose above the discomfort.

“It was great she got through the way she did, because there was no guarantee that was going to happen,” said Brad Beecher, her long-time caddie. “She battled on through.

“You know how she is when she gets to a major. She just switches into a different gear. That gear switched on, and there was no thought of the thumb. She didn’t mention it at all.”

As Park made her way down the 18th fairway, Beecher told her to relish the walk.

“Enjoy this,” he told her. “You earned every step of it.”

As Park walked off the 18th green, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan handed her a bouquet of 27 white roses, each representing a point required for induction. Then Se Ri Pak, the woman who inspired Park and a legion of South Koreans to play the game, hugged her. Park joins Pak as the only Koreans in the LPGA Hall of Fame.

“I’m very proud of her,” Pak said. “It’s not really easy to do, all the points, the winning.”

Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster and Pat Bradley followed Pak in hugging Park.

“She’s a hell of a player, had a great run,” Inkster said. “I think sometimes she doesn’t get the credit she deserves, really proud of her.”

Park enters the LPGA Hall of Fame with 17 victories, seven of them major championships. She was the Rolex Player of the Year in 2013, becoming the first South Korean to claim the award. She won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average in 2012 and ’14.

“I feel truly blessed that my thumb and my body and my mind and everything really held up out there today,” Park said. “I grinded really well out there. Everything kind of really worked the way I wanted to. Obviously, the score is not the greatest, but I definitely am satisfied with the score ... I enjoyed today. I don’t think I would change it for any other round I’ve had in my life.”