Village of Pinehurst, N.C. – A quick look at the entry form for the 2010 U.S. Girls’ Junior will show in the first exemption category a list of three past champions still eligible to compete this year at The Country Club of North Carolina.
Except two of those players aren’t present.
Welcome to an era where elite female golfers seem to turn professional before the senior prom.
Jenny Shin, the 2006 champion, and 2008 winner Alexis Thompson each shed their amateur careers this year for the play-for-pay set. Thompson, who finished tied for 10th at
the U.S. Women’s Open a week ago, turned pro immediately after last month’s Curtis Cup Match, while Shin started playing professionally on the Duramed Futures Tour in March, three months prior to graduating from Torrance (Calif.) High School.
|Kristen Park is hoping to rekindle the magic from 2007 at this week's U.S. Girls' Junior. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)
But the third member of the triumvirate, 2007 champion Kristen Park, is in the Sandhills this week hoping to repeat the magic of three years ago at Tacoma Country and Golf Club, where she defeated Ayaka Kaneko in the championship match.
That isn’t to say the 17-year-old rising high school senior from Buena Park, Calif., wasn’t tempted to turn pro.
“Actually I was,” she admitted, “because people my age were making money in golf and I wasn’t. I am still set for college right now.”
Park, a verbal commitment to attend the University of Southern California in the fall of 2011, understands the riches of professional golf will still be there, and she isn’t quite prepared for that level.
Then again, until her four-stroke victory at the American Junior Golf Association’s Tournament of Champions on July 2 at Blessings Golf Club in Johnson, Ark., Park had seemingly vanished from national attention. Certainly Park was among the junior elite, having competed in two Junior Solheim Cups for the U.S. and qualifying for the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open, but she had not added a major title since the Girls’ Junior three years ago.
In a way, the Girls’ Junior title brought additional expectations and attention that the shy and quiet Park admittedly struggled with handling. Park prefers to go about her business away from the limelight.
“I really don’t like the attention,” said Park just prior to her final practice round on the Dogwood Course at CCNC on Sunday. “Since that was my first [big] win, I really didn’t know what to do after that. That was my problem. I wasn’t ready for the extra attention.”
Maturity and experience seems to be helping Park regain that form. She said a better practice regiment – specifically a stronger focus on her putting – was a key reason for her success in Arkansas, where she birdied the final two holes to hold off a late charge from 18-year-old Emily Tubert, who had won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links the previous week.
Two months prior to the T of C win, Park claimed the Under Armour/Hunter Mahan Invitational for her first AJGA victory since 2008.
Now she comes to her fourth and final U.S. Girls’ Junior for a last hurrah. With Shin and Thompson now pros, Park has the distinction of being the only USGA champion in the field.
“It feels a little weird,” said Park. “I have been playing junior tournaments for so long. It seems like forever [that I won this championship]. I don’t remember much anymore.”
Park hopes some of those good vibes from Arkansas and the 2007 Girls’ Junior can return. This is the start of a competitive four-week stretch that takes Park to Boston for the Canon Cup, Indiana for the PGA Junior (she hopes to qualify for the 2010 Junior Ryder Cup Matches in Wales) and finally to Charlotte, N.C., for the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
And there are no pro events on the immediate horizon.
“I want to experience my senior year [of high school] before I go [to college],” said Park, an excellent student who is undecided on her college major. “For me, even though I feel ready [to play professionally], I want to experience college first. The LPGA [Tour] isn’t going away.”
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.