Park was born Ji Eun, the daughter of successful restaurateurs in
Seoul. She is therefore the truest 'Seoul Sister', having grown
up in Seoul! As a youngster she went to a private school rated the
best in the city, and known for its tough academic standards and
for a special focus on athletics. At the time, Ji Eun focused on
speed skating, which she had a talent for, and which is something
of a national obsession in Korea. Indeed, when young, she captured
the national championship in this sport. At the age of 10, her parents,
both golfers, introduced her to golf. Within just a few months her
scoring average plummeted to the low 90s. Her parents realized she
had a gift, and that she would not learn much in the big city. So
they sent her to live with relatives in Hawaii, where she received
special training from a former LPGA pro.
just a few years, Grace, as she now was known, was the top rated
junior girls' player in the U.S. But it was such a hassle flying
to events from Hawaii that her parents decided Grace should move
to the mainland. They bought a house in Phoenix, and Grace moved
there. She did not like it; there were few Asians or Koreans around,
unlike Hawaii, and she still was not fluent in English or comfortable
with the customs. She lived with a guardian, although her parents
visited when they could. But eventually she grew used to the area,
and ended up not only going to college there, but moving there after
enrolled at Arizona State University, where her success continued.
She became a dominant amateur, the best in the country, winning
tournaments hand over fist. In 1998, she became the first amateur
since 1938 to win all the major amateur tournaments in one year.
Included in that was a relentless destruction of Jenny Chuasiriporn
(7 and 6) at the U.S. Women's Amateur Championships. This was only
a few months after Jenny nearly won the U.S. Open against Se Ri
also tried her hand at playing professional tournaments while still
an amateur. Her results were impressive. She finished 8th at the
1999 U.S. Open, destroying Jenny C's record for lowest score for
an amateur. Her driving average that year was 8 yards farther than
any other player in the field. At the Safeway tournament later that
year, she finished 2nd, behind only Juli Inkster, who entered the
Hall of Fame with that victory. Fellow Seoul Sister Se Ri finished
4th at the same tournament.
avoided LPGA Q-School by taking advantage of a new rule that said
you could get a one year exemption on the LPGA if you finished in
the top three on the money list on the Futures Tour, a minor league
women's golf tour that the LPGA had recently adopted as a developmental
tour. Joining halfway through the season, Grace dominated, winning
five of the ten events she entered and easily capturing the top
of the money list, the Player of the Year award, and the LPGA exemption.
Everything pointed towards an awesome debut on the LPGA, but things
did not go as Grace planned. In 2000, she started terribly, as did
Mi Hyun Kim and Se Ri Pak in their rookie years. She missed several
cuts and was nowhere near the top of the rookie list. But after
a few months she settled in and started to get top tens, finally
winning her first tournament in April. She vaulted to the top of
the rookie standings, but then got a rib injury that sidelined her
for several weeks, and hampered her play for the rest of the season.
Dorothy Delasin, meanwhile, won her first tournament and inched
in front of Grace in the ROY standings. Despite Grace's efforts,
she could not catch Delasin, and Delasin won the Rookie of the Year
award, breaking the Korean Seoul Sister streak.
has continued to be up and down after that. She won again in 2001,
but only managed six top tens all year. She had more injuries. Her
swing suffered from the injuries; she lost a good twenty yards of
distance, and overcompensation for her rib has resulted in a tendency
to pull the ball way right or left. If Se Ri is the Sister who lived
up to her potential, and Mi Hyun the Sister who overachieved, Grace
was the underachiever of the three, at least since she joined the
to right the ship, Grace began working with new coach Peter Costis
in 2002. Costis referred to her as a 'Ferrari with a few loose nuts'.
Meaning, she had all the tools to be great, she just needed a little
tweaking. Her work with Costis had immediate results. She got off
to a great start in 2002, and though she had a mild mid-season slump,
won her third LPGA event in October. She finished with her first
top ten placing on the money list, her best scoring average ever,
and the most top tens she had achieved in her pro career. At last,
Grace has risen to the star status that was expected of her.
got even better in 2003. Grace roared out of the gate by shooting
her career best score, 63, in the first tournament of the year,
and very nearly won it. The next week, she lost by one stroke to
Se Ri Pak in a thrilling battle of the Sisters. Grace would go on
to notch an astounding 19 top tens in 2003, and came within just
a few strokes of stealing the Vare Trophy away from Se Ri Pak. Included
in those 19 top tens were ten in a row to end the season, a win,
a second place finish at the LPGA Championship (almost her first
Major win), three other second place finishes, and four third places.
She had top tens in three of the four Majors in 2003, scored the
most birdies on tour for the second year in a row, and had the best
putts per green in regulation average on tour. She also finished
third on the money list, behind just Se Ri Pak and Annika Sorenstam.
As if that weren't enough, she also signed an enormous endorsement
deal with Nike and was named a (nonvoting) member to the LPGA's
Board of Directors. At the age of 24, Grace Park had arrived as
a superstar at last!
proved to be arguably Grace's best season yet. She started the year
off with a bang, scoring top three finishes in her first three starts.
The best of these was at the Nabisco Championship, the year's first
Major, where she sank a clutch 6 foot birdie try on the final hole
to collect her first Major victory. Grace continued to play well
after that, but a series of back problems hampered her during the
summer and the big money events that happened at that time.
once she got over the back trouble, she again performed wonderfully.
In September and October, she got on a roll, producing one second
place finish after another, before collecting a second victory at
the CJ 9 Bridges Classic. It was the biggest win of her career,
a five shot triumph, and the first time that she had ever won more
than one event in a season.
would go on to collect the Vare Trophy for low scoring average of
the season, becoming only the fourth player in history to post a
scoring average for the year below 70, and the second Korean player,
after Se Ri Pak, to win the coveted award. All signs pointed to
a mammoth 2005 for Grace, providing she could keep healthy!
her health proved to be her Achilles heel all through 2005. She
especially struggled with her back, which was injured so much of
the season that she found it difficult to practice. As a result,
she was perpetually rusty all year, so that even when her back would
be OK, she would not be at her best. And it seemed like she would
get injured repeatedly, sometimes in ridiculous ways: once, she
even hurt her shoulder when one of her pro-am partners gave her
a too vigorous high five following a good putt. As a result, she
suffered through her worst season as a pro in 2005. Not only did
she not win a tournament in a season for the first time since joining
the LPGA, she also finished outside the top 30 on the money list
for the first time.
the first part of the 2006 season, she was healthier by and large,
but the months of inactivity due to injury took their toll. She
was still capable of lighting it up, as she did the very first round
of the year at the SBS Open, where she shot a 66 and took the first
round lead. But she was also very inconsistent and missed a lot
of cuts for a player of her caliber. Just when it looked like things
might turn around, she got a serious neck injury that forced her
to miss a lot of weeks right in the middle of the year. For the
first time in her career, she was forced to bow out of the US Women's
Open. She never really returned to form the rest of the year, and
finished outside the top ninety on the money list.
in 2006, she did return to play in a few events. More importantly,
she led the Asian team at the Lexus Cup to a narrow victory over
the International team captained by Annika Sorenstam. They thus
avenged the trouncing the Internationals had given them the previous
year. In 2007, Grace continued to struggle to return to form, but
at least her injuries were under control for the moment. She improved
slightly from the year before, finishing 87th on the money list,
but she is still far from the player she was a few years ago.
continued her lackluster results in 2008, although she did flirt
with the top 20 a few times during the year and produced the occasional
great round. She seemed to be slowly coming around, although she
was far away from the form that made her a superstar only a few
years earlier. At the start of the 2009 season, she very nearly
notched her first top ten since 2005 when she finished 12th in Mexico.
But she withdrew with back problems at the next event, and after
missing the cut at the Nabisco, missed the rest of the season due
to injuries. During this period she had an operation on her back,
with the hope that she will come back from this latest round of
injuries stronger than ever.
saw more struggling for Grace, however. She did manage one golden
return to form: a tie for 10th at the Nabisco, her first top ten
in four and a half years. Otherwise, she only made two other cuts
all year and did not play at all after July.
had more trouble in 2011. She was relatively healthy, but the good
results just didn't come. She did not even make the field of the
US Women's Open, and missed the cut at two of the other three Majors.
Her best finish was a tie for 13th at the Safeway Classic. Her money
list position was 81st, meaning she just missed out on category
1 status. But she still has category 11 status, which would qualify
her for most tournaments.
had been planning on playing the LPGA at the start of 2012, then
focusing on the KLPGA in the latter half of the year. However, she
felt that, despite being healthy, her game was no longer where she
wanted it to be, and so she made a surprise announcement of her
retirement at the LPGA Championship. She did make the cut there,
extending her career two more days, then called it a career and
moved back to Korea. Late in the year she married her boyfriend.
It looks likely that she is done with golf, although she has not
ruled out the possibility of returning at some point.
finished her career with 6 LPGA wins, but there were times when
it looked like she could have been so much more were it not for
all the injuries. No doubt whatever she does from here on out, she
will continue to be a smashing success. Good luck to her!