U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Park's Smile Belies Grinding Game July 10, 2015 | Lancaster, Pa. By Lisa D. Mickey

While Jane Park is still looking for her first professional win, her USGA championship success makes her an intriguing presence on the leader board. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

When it comes to handling the disappointments of a major championship, it’s better to laugh than to cry.

At least that’s the belief of Jane Park – a perennial jokester and fun-loving professional who had nearly forgotten the bogey on her last hole of Friday’s second round of the U.S. Women’s Open by the time she reached the media center.

Instead of hanging her head and punishing herself on the range for a few hours after the last-hole hiccup, Park said she planned to leave Lancaster Country Club Friday afternoon and seek out local culture and food.

She wanted to see the Amish people – Lancaster County is home to America’s oldest Amish settlement. She wanted to sample the local cuisine and visit farm stands. She wanted to leave behind the business of championship golf for a few hours and drive to the rolling cornfields, where the only spotlight came in the form of summer sunshine.  

Most of all, Park wanted to restoke her internal happiness and return Saturday for Round 3 with a smile on her face and steel in her gut in an effort to inch closer toward winning this national championship.

“You’ve got to kind of brush things off,” said Park, 28. “You really just have to take a fresh attitude into this week and know that sometimes things are going to go wrong.”

Round 2 at Challenging Lancaster

Wrong, as in two bogeys on her last three holes on Friday. Right, as in she’s high on the leader board of what she readily calls her “favorite tournament, by far.”

While Park might take the light and breezy path in life, by her own assessment, she’s a grinder on the golf course. What she lacks in distance off the tee, she makes up for with her short game.

This week, she ranks last of the 154 players in average driving distance at just 211.75 yards, in a championship where players are facing a wet, hilly test of golf. Park noted that she spent Friday’s round hitting driver, 3-wood into several par-4 holes and doing everything in her power to save par.

“I grind out the pars when I need to,” she said. “I don’t make a ton of birdies, but the U.S. Women’s Open is all about making a lot of pars, and I seem to be pretty good at that sometimes.”

Park has earned a reputation for scrambling over the years, and at USGA championships, she has proven to be an outright bulldog at times.

She was the runner-up in the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, and she came back to win it in 2004 at The Kahkwa Club in Erie, Pa. She was a two-time member of the USA Curtis Cup Team (2004, 2006) and posted a tie for 10th in the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open, her career-best finish in the championship.

That success has not easily transferred to professional golf or the LPGA Tour, which she joined in 2007. Park remains winless since turning pro in the fall of 2006, but posted a pair of runner-up finishes in 2008. Last year, her best finish was a tie for 11th in the LPGA Championship, and in 15 starts in 2015, her best showing is a tie for 13th at the JTBC Founders Cup.

“I’ve had some ups and downs ... some back injuries, neck injuries, wrist injuries,” said Park. “Golf is pretty taxing on your body. This is my first year feeling completely healthy in a very long time.”

And yes, the questions have continued over the years about why she has not yet won after a stellar amateur career, which also included a runner-up finish in the 2004 U.S. Girls’ Junior. Again, Park has tried to counterbalance that disappointment with a smile.

“I guess that’s my next goal, really, to try to win out here,” said Park. “When you’re not healthy, your confidence isn’t as high as it should be and you don’t quite believe in your swing as much as you can.”

Following Friday’s second round, Park glanced at the leader board and again smiled.

“I’m very happy that I’m playing well and ... that I’m in this position and injury-free, which is a lot more than I can say about last year,” she said.

Born in Chicago, Park spent her formative years in Southern California, attended UCLA and briefly played for the nationally ranked women’s golf team. After she turned professional, she relocated to Orlando, Fla.

Now, she lives in suburban Atlanta and plays out of Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek Course. When she’s not playing golf, Park is listening to music, playing the piano, tweeting comical scenes from life on the road with her close friend Michelle Wie and finding every reason to laugh.

When entries were due for this U.S. Women’s Open, Park had no second thoughts about grinding through sectional qualifying in Atlanta. She wanted to be in the field, and she was, at last, healthy.

If Park can sneak up the leader board just a little more over the next 36 holes – even if it takes hitting a 3-wood into a bunch of par 4s – she will also be happy.

Very happy.

Lisa Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.

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