RIVER VALE, N.J. – Annie Park walked into the grill room at Edgewood Country Club late Thursday afternoon relieved to be out of the sticky 90-plus degree heat. Playing 36 holes in the grind of a U.S. Women’s Open qualifier can be grueling.
But these days, air conditioning might be the only way to cool off the 18-year-old from Levittown, N.Y.
Just six days earlier, Park had led the University of Southern California to a record-setting 21-stroke victory at the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship in Athens, Ga., capturing individual honors by six shots. On Thursday, Park posted a pair of bogey-free, 4-under-par 68s (136) on the 6,589-yard Edgewood layout to share medalist honors with 15-year-old Brooke Mackenzie Henderson of Canada.
Kendra Little, 24, of Eugene, Ore., garnered the third and final qualifying spot at 6-under 138 (70-68).
This was the final day of qualifying for the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open, scheduled for June 27-30 at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. Qualifying was held at 20 U.S. venues between May 7-30.
For Park, it has been a torrid 36 days. In January she enrolled at USC, five months before her scheduled graduation from General MacArthur High School. She made an immediate impact, winning the Bruin/Wave Invitational in March. Then in late April, she picked up more steam with a victory at the Pac-12 Conference Championship. Two weeks later, she won the West Regional before her brilliant 10-under performance at the NCAA Championship.
Park joined Arizona's Marisa Baena (1996) as the only female golfer in NCAA history to win a conference, regional and NCAA title in the same season. Like Park, Baena did so as a freshman.
Park will play in a second consecutive U.S. Women’s Open – she missed the cut last July at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis. This time, she will be just 80 minutes from home on a course she lists among her favorites. Last fall, she competed on the Metropolitan Golf Association team in the French-American Challenge at Sebonack and quickly found the Tom Doak/Jack Nicklaus design to her liking.
“It was my goal to play at Sebonack from the time I knew about it,” said Park.
Before she tees it up against the world’s best female golfers, Park plans to attend her high school prom on June 8 and go through commencement ceremonies the following week. Her plans for the days following her qualification include attending her graduation rehearsal and beach time with friends.
That’s quite a whirlwind for someone who finished her high school curriculum last December to enroll early at USC, which needed golfers after starting last fall with only five on the roster.
Park didn’t take long to fit in and won her teammates over with the late-season performances.
“That was my goal … to help my team in any way,” said Park. “I guess I gained a lot of confidence. I learned a lot from my teammates and playing with other [college] competitors. I’m just focusing on each shot and trying to stay in the present.”
Park, No. 9 in the latest Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, was unflappable at the qualifier, saving par on the par-5 11th hole – her second of the afternoon round – by rolling in a 30-footer. She capped her round with birdies at Nos. 7 and 8.
Next month at Sebonack, Park will need that solid short game on a course with demanding green complexes. At the qualifier, she employed Sebonack caddie Joe Carson, who also carried her bag at the French-American Challenge.
“Right now I feel I can do better [than in 2012],” said Park. “I know what the course looks like. I’ve played there and I’ve played pretty well there. It’s just going to be me and the golf course.”
Henderson, a member of the Canadian National Team who represented her country at the 2012 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in Turkey and the 2013 Copa de las Americas this past January in Miami (Canada won the overall title), birdied four of her last six holes to post a 5-under 67, the lowest round of the qualifier. The No. 34-ranked female amateur made the seven-hour drive from the Ottawa, Ontario, suburb of Smith Falls with her father, Dave, and grandfather, Clem, to play in her first Women’s Open qualifier.
Last year, Henderson won a regional professional event in Quebec to earn a place in the Canadian Women’s Open, where she missed the cut. That experience, along with playing in the past two U.S. Girls’ Juniors and U.S. Women’s Amateurs, helped Henderson to grow as a player. And in January, she claimed the South American Amateur in Colombia.
Now, she’s headed to the Women’s Open.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Henderson, a high school sophomore who turns 16 in September. “I am looking forward to it.”
So is Little, who commented that when she was 15, she was busy scraping her knees playing basketball. On Thursday, the University of Oregon graduate and Symetra Tour rookie overcame a triple-bogey 6 at the par-3 13th hole – her fourth of the afternoon round – to card a 68 and edge Christel Boeljon, of The Netherlands, by one stroke for the final qualifying spot. Boeljon is the first alternate.
“Honestly, I think it kind of gave me a kick in the butt,” said Little, who had New Jersey-based PGA professional David Glenz on her bag. “You just have to keep going and see how many more birdies you can make.”
Little, who has made two cuts in four Symetra Tour events in 2013, rebounded with seven birdies over her final 14 holes.
Little said having Glenz, a renowned instructor at Black Oak Golf Club in Long Valley, N.J., was a bonus. Glenz and Little’s father, Doug, were in the same fraternity at the University of Oregon in the early 1970s – Glenz played on the golf team and Doug was on the men’s basketball team – and it was through her father that Kendra found Glenz.
Glenz’s availability is also why Little chose to qualify in New Jersey rather than in Oregon. It didn’t hurt to have a friendly face in just her second Women’s Open attempt, the last coming in 2009 as a college sophomore. After failing to advance out of the second stage of LPGA Tour Qualifying School last fall, Little said this performance was certainly welcome.
“I can’t wait for the opportunity,” said Little of playing in the Women’s Open. “I really have nothing to lose.”
NOTES: Brittany Altomare, of Shrewsbury, Mass., earned the second-alternate spot at 3-under 141…Two of Annie Park’s USC teammates have also qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open. Doris Chen, the 2010 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, qualified in Heathrow, Fla., while Kyung Kim, the reigning Women’s Amateur Public Links champion, earned a spot in Dallas via a playoff…Becky McDaid (nee Lucidi), the 2002 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, failed to qualify after shooting 149 (77-72), while 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior runner-up Karen Chung (73-75–148) also failed to advance.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.