RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Annie Park talked to herself and listened to her caddie’s silly, dad jokes while playing by herself during the first two rounds of the Chevron Championship.
Park was the final player to qualify for the season’s first major championship and, with an odd number of players in the field, was left to play solo during the opening sessions at Mission Hills Country Club. Park was given the option of playing with a marker but chose to go it alone. The decision paid off as she shot 69-67 to put herself in contention for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020.
“It's been a while that I've had a great time on the golf course,” said the 2013 NCAA individual champion. “It feels good to be back.”
Park, a first-time winner on the LPGA Tour in 2018, has struggled over the last couple of years. It was only last week, at the JTBC Classic, that the former USC Trojan said she started to enjoy being on the course again.
The choice this week to play alone was a risky one for Park, who struggled with the forced isolation brought on by the pandemic. Following the LPGA’s three-month COVID break in mid-2020, Park took off an additional two months last summer, to address her ongoing mental health struggles.
During that time, Park discovered new hobbies and took a long, hard look at what she was doing with her life. Did she want to continue to play golf? The answer was yes. She returned to the tour in September and crept inside the top 100 in the Race to the CME Globe point standings, at No. 98, to barely keep her card for this season.
“For a while I thought about stepping away from the game,” Park said. “COVID, really was long.”
Her scores don’t reflect it, but Park’s solo pursuit at Mission Hills has had its own challenges. There were moments she said it felt outright weird. And with the first tee time of Round 2, at 7:15 a.m. PT, it wasn’t until she made the turn and had to wait on the twosomes teeing off ahead of her, that she said it began to feel like a normal day on the golf course.
“It could be an advantage that you do have a little bit more time to yourself; but also overthinking is not always great,” Park said about playing alone. “I kind of realized that yesterday, where I was just strolling around, started overthinking, (and said to myself), ‘OK there is no more of this.’”
Putting herself and her mental health at the forefront hasn’t always been a priority for Park, but something she’s learned to do in recent years.
For the first 36 holes of the Chevron Championship, Park flew solo, but come the weekend, she’ll be playing alongside someone else – and much later in the day. Park has elevated her game to a new level with her newfound passion for the game and with it, put herself in position to win her first major title. And she's enjoying every bit of it.
“It feels good to be back,” she said.