Motivated by gold medal, Park ready for '17 return

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2017, 7:39 pm

Inbee Park is doing more than quietly healing in her time away from the game.

She’s regenerating.

There is something rejuvenating about carrying around an Olympic gold medal for three months, because that’s exactly what Park did upon returning to South Korea last summer, where she received a hero’s welcome upon returning from Rio de Janeiro.

“The whole three months I was back home in Korea, and everywhere I went, everyone wanted to see it,” Park told “So, I’ve been carrying my gold medal wherever I go.”

When Park finally left her South Korean home late last year, she handed the prize to her father, who keeps it safe in a trophy room at his Korean company. She is in Las Vegas now, preparing to make her return to the LPGA, hopefully at the Honda LPGA Thailand in five weeks.

Still, Park is never far from her Olympic memory. She recently adopted a puppy she named “Rio.” He’s a Golden Retriever.

“Playing with Rio is a big schedule for me now,” Park said.

Park, 28, hasn’t hit a shot in competition since the Olympics. She spent almost a month after winning gold with her injured left thumb in a cast. She didn’t touch a club for nearly four months, until December, but she says that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Olympic memories are more than motivating for Park. They are restorative. While there was speculation in the player and media ranks last year that Park might consider retiring early, she says all her time away from the game after winning the medal has freshened her spirit.

“It definitely refreshed me, and my perspective on the game has slightly changed,” Park said. “You don't really appreciate what you have already. But when I was away, I was able to appreciate what I had, and have more passion for the game. So it was very useful time. Not just getting healthy, but changing the mindset was a good achievement.”

For all Park has achieved, winning seven major championships, including three in a row, and reigning at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, she said winning Olympic gold resonates the strongest.

“Out of all the tournaments I've won so far, the Olympic is definitely the one that lasts longest,” Park said. “Not just by me, but so many people still remember it like yesterday. I think that is really the difference. The thing I’m really most happy about is that so many people who weren't interested in golf or women's golf recognize me and the game of golf. More variety of fan base for sport is what I am really happy about. I really feel that is the power of the Olympics.”

Park struggled through so much pain last year, with an injury to the ligament of her left thumb shortening her season, but it only made the year more remarkable. First, she battled through the pain to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame in June, and then after a long layoff battled through more pain to win in Rio in August, when nobody expected her to win.

“Just astounding,” Hall of Famer and Golf Channel analyst Judy Rankin said Thursday. “I don’t know how she accomplished what she accomplished. You don’t think you can be surprised by somebody as good as she’s been, but that was really a surprise. I so commend her for going through a lot of external pressure and making that happen.”

Karen Stupples, the 2004 Women’s British Open champ and a Golf Channel analyst, was equally impressed.

“How she won the Olympics, I just don’t know how that happened,” Stupples said. “I think that it was meant to be.”

Park’s triumph, though, makes LPGA observers wonder what she has left to prove and how that will affect her ambition.

“I don’t know what this season holds, I think there are so many variables,” Stupples said. “How do you set goals when you’ve achieved everything that you can possibly achieve? You’re already in the Hall of Fame, you’ve won the gold medal, you’ve got the majors and in your mind the Grand Slam. Where does she go? I think that’s the biggest problem players that do what Inbee has done have moving forward.”

Park is focused on making the best return she can this season. She’s eager to compete again, and she isn’t sure what her long-term plans are.

“I really don’t know and don’t want to guarantee anything since my mind changes every day,” she said.

But . . .

“The 2020 Tokyo Olympics gold medal can be a good goal for the future,” she said.

There was so much focus on Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko and No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn going to the Olympics, but Park reminded us all just how dominant she can be.

Park is eager to see what she can do this year. She says she’s feeling better. She began hitting balls again in December and is now playing nine to 18 holes a day.

“I feel really good,” Park said. “I feel like I took really good rest, and rehab has been very successful. Most of the times, I play with no pain which is really good.”

As formidable as Park is when she’s healthy, her return promises to get the attention of world No. 1 Ko and No. 2 Jutanugarn. When Park’s putter is hot, she can demoralize a field in ways nobody else can in the women’s game today.

In her time away, Park has slid outside the top 10 in the world rankings, to No. 11. Does she still want to be No. 1?

“Who wouldn’t want to be?” Park said. “I wouldn't say it's my main goal, but it is definitely one of the goals I will go for. I am just happy that I am healthy enough to be back on the course and swinging. We will go one step at a time.”

Park is traditionally a slow starter, and she will have more of an off season to overcome this year, but she’s excited about returning.

“I'd like to come back in a really nice form,” she said. “Obviously, that's what I am aiming for. I may be bit rusty, but once the season starts and I go through a couple of tournaments, that shouldn't be a big problem. I think the key is to stay healthy and play in a good condition throughout the season.”

That could completely change this year’s narrative. 

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Asia offers chance for players to get early jump on season

By Rex HoggardOctober 17, 2018, 6:00 pm

When the field at this week’s CJ Cup tees off for Round 1 just past dinner time on the East Coast Wednesday most golf fans will still be digesting the dramatic finish to the 2017-18 season, which wrapped up exactly 24 days ago, or reliving a Ryder Cup that didn’t go well for the visiting team.

Put another way, the third event of the new season will slip by largely unnoticed, the victim of a crowded sports calendar and probably a dollop of burnout.

What’ll be lost in this three-event swing through Asia that began last week in Kuala Lumpur at the CIMB Classic is how important these events have become to Tour players, whether they count themselves among the star class or those just trying to keep their jobs.

The Asian swing began in 2009 with the addition of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, although it would be a few years before the event earned full status on Tour, and expanded in 2010 with the addition of the CIMB Classic. This week’s stop in South Korea was added last season and as the circuit transitions to a condensed schedule and earlier finish next year there are persistent rumors that the Tour plans to expand even more in the Far East with sources saying an event in Japan would be a likely landing spot.

Although these events resonate little in the United States because of the time zone hurdles, for players, the Asian swing has become a key part of the schedule.

Consider that seven of the top 10 performers last year in Asia advanced to the Tour Championship and that success wasn’t mutually exclusive to how these players started their season in Asia.

For players looking to get a jump on the new season, the three Asian stops are low-hanging fruit, with all three featuring limited fields and no cut where players are guaranteed four rounds and FedExCup points.

For a player like Pat Perez, his performances last October virtually made his season, with the veteran winning the CIMB Classic and finishing tied for fifth place at the CJ Cup. All total, Perez, who played all three Asian events last year, earned 627 FedExCup points - more than half (53 percent) of his regular-season total.

Keegan Bradley and Cameron Smith also made the most of the tournaments in Asia, earning 34 and 36 percent, respectively, of their regular-season points in the Far East. On average, the top 10 performers in Asia last year earned 26 percent of their regular-season points in what was essentially a fraction of their total starts.

“It's just a place that I've obviously played well,” Justin Thomas, a three-time winner in Asia, said last week in Kuala Lumpur. “I'm comfortable. I think being a little bit of a longer hitter you have an advantage, but I mean, the fact of the matter is that I've just played well the years I played here.”

Perhaps the biggest winner in Asia last season was Justin Rose, who began a torrid run with his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and earned 28 percent of his regular-season points (550) in the Far East on his way to winning the FedExCup by just 41 points.

But it’s not just the stars who have made the most of the potential pot of Asian gold.

Lucas Glover finished tied for seventh at the CIMB Classic, 15th at the CJ Cup and 50th in China in 2017 to earn 145 of his 324 regular-season points (45 percent). Although that total was well off the pace to earn Glover a spot in the postseason and a full Tour card, it was enough to secure him conditional status in 2018-19.

Similarly, Camilo Villegas tied for 17th in Kuala Lumpur and 36th in South Korea to earn 67 of his 90 points, the difference between finishing 193rd on the regular-season point list and 227th. While it may seem like a trivial amount to the average fan, it allowed Villegas to qualify for the Tour Finals and a chance to re-earn his Tour card.

With this increasingly nuanced importance have come better fields in Asia (which were largely overlooked the first few years), with six of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking making the trip last week to Malaysia and this week’s tee sheet in South Korea featuring two of the top 5 in world - No. 3 Brooks Koepka and No. 4 Thomas.

“I finished 11th here last year and 11th in China the next week. If I can try and improve on that, get myself in contention and possibly win, it sets up the whole year. That's why I've come back to play,” Jason Day said this week of his decision to play the Asian swing.

For many golf fans in the United States, the next few weeks will be a far-flung distraction until the Tour arrives on the West Coast early next year, but for the players who are increasingly starting to make the trip east, it’s a crucial opportunity to get a jump on the season.

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Watch: Woods uses computer code to make robotic putt

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 3:10 pm

Robots have been plotting their takeover of the golf world for some time.

First it was talking trash to Rory McIlroy, then it was making a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale's famous 16th hole ... and now they're making putts for Tiger Woods.

Woods tweeted out a video on Tuesday draining a putt without ever touching the ball:

The 42-year-old teamed up with a computer program to make the putt, and provided onlookers with a vintage Tiger celebration, because computers can't do that ... yet.

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Woods admits fatigue played factor in Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:35 pm

There was plenty of speculation about Tiger Woods’ health in the wake of the U.S. team’s loss to Europe at last month’s Ryder Cup, and the 14-time major champ broke his silence on the matter during a driving range Q&A at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach on Tuesday.

Woods, who went 0-4 in Paris, admitted he was tired because he wasn’t ready to play so much golf this season after coming back from a fourth back surgery.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

The topic of conversation then shifted to what's next, with Woods saying he's just starting to plan out his future schedule, outside of "The Match" with Phil Mickelson over Thanksgiving weekend and his Hero World Challenge in December.

“I’m still figuring that out,” Woods said. “Flying out here yesterday trying to look at the schedule, it’s the first time I’ve taken a look at it. I’ve been so focused on getting through the playoffs and the Ryder Cup that I just took a look at the schedule and saw how packed it is.”

While his exact schedule remains a bit of a mystery, one little event in April at Augusta National seemed to be on his mind already.

When asked which major he was most looking forward to next year, Woods didn't hesitate with his response, “Oh, that first one.”

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Podcast: Fujikawa aims to offer 'hope' by coming out

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 17, 2018, 12:03 pm

Tadd Fujikawa first made golf history with his age. Now he's doing it with his recent decision to openly discuss his sexuality.

Last month Fujikawa announced via Instagram that he is gay, becoming the first male professional to come out publicly. Now 27, he has a different perspective on life than he did when he became the youngest U.S. Open participant in 2006 at Winged Foot at age 15, or when he made the cut at the Sony Open a few months later.

Joining as the guest on the latest Golf Channel podcast, Fujikawa discussed with host Will Gray the reception to his recent announcement - as well as some of the motivating factors that led the former teen phenom to become somewhat of a pioneer in the world of men's professional golf.

"I just want to let people know that they're enough, and that they're good exactly as they are," Fujikawa said. "That they don't need to change who they are to fit society's mold. Especially in the golf world where it's so, it's not something that's very common."

The wide-ranging interview also touched on Fujikawa's adjustment to life on golf-centric St. Simons Island, Ga., as well as some of his hobbies outside the game. But he was also candid about the role that anxiety and depression surrounding his sexuality had on his early playing career, admitting that he considered walking away from the game "many, many times" and would have done so had it not been for the support of friends and family.

While professional golf remains a priority, Fujikawa is also embracing the newfound opportunity to help others in a similar position.

"Hearing other stories, other athletes, other celebrities, my friends. Just seeing other people come out gave me a lot of hope in times when I didn't feel like there was a lot of hope," he said. "For me personally, it was something that I've wanted to do for a long time, and something I'm very passionate about. I really want to help other people who are struggling with that similar issue. And if I can change lives, that's really my goal."

For more from Fujikawa, click below or click here to download the podcast and subscribe to future episodes: