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In-Bee Park Becomes Second Youngest Player To Win Girls’ Junior

By Ken Klavon

| Jul 27, 2002 | Westfield, N.J.

(USGA/John Mummert)

Fourteen-year-old In-Bee Park of Eustis, Fla., defeated Jenny Tangtiphaiboontana, 17, of Long Beach, Calif., 4 and 3, Saturday to win the 54th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at the par-73, 6,353-yard Echo Lake Country Club in front of roughly 500 fans. In doing so, Park became the second-youngest champion behind Aree Wongluekiet, who won the event in 1999 at 13 years, three months and seven days.

Park, at 14 years, zero months and 15 days, leapfrogged 1981 Girls’ Junior winner Kay Cornelius.

“I can’t believe I won the Girls’ Junior championship,” said the Korean-born Park. “It’s a dream come true.”

After winning, Park marveled at the gold medal she received for winning and the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy she’ll hold custody of for the ensuing year.

“She’s very honored to be on the trophy,” said coach Charlie Yoo. “It’s something she’ll never forget.”

Park became the first medalist to win the championship since Beth Bauer in 1997. For being finalists, both Park and Tangtiphaiboontana earned exemptions into the U.S. Women’s Amateur, which will be held at The Sleepy Hollow C.C. in Scarborough, N.Y., Aug. 12-17. Park will play; Tangtiphaiboontana said she probably would not commit because it conflicts with a long-planned vacation to Thailand.

Throughout the week, Park spoke of how the pressure of wearing the proverbial bull's-eye on her back for being medalist made her nervous. After posting a 5-under 141 to enter match play, she didn’t sleep too well. Until Friday night.

“I was tired” from playing 42 holes Friday, said Park, whose family came to America when she turned 13.

Going into Saturday, Tangtiphaiboontana was the sentimental choice among spectators. Last November her parents had perished in a car accident as they were returning from a California state tournament. Tangtiphaiboontana and a friend were also in the vehicle.

Missing the last two Girls’ Junior cuts, Tangtiphaiboontana had set a goal of simply making it to match play. Asked what she would take from the week, Tangtiphaiboontana said: “Just making it to the finals, overall, like how I recovered after some bad shots. “This more than exceeded may expectations.”

If the final match had to be described in six words or less, no more than five would be needed. It was about missed opportunities.

“I figured I’d come out and play my game,” said Tangtiphaiboontana. “If it’s not my day, it’s not my day.”

Park, consistently long off the tee, never wavered. She hit 10 of 13 fairways and 11 of 15 greens, and carded two bogeys. Some had figured with the length of the course – a record length, which surpassed the 6,348 yards Heather Downs C.C., Toledo, Ohio, presented in 1956 – Park, who averages 240 off the tee, would have a clear advantage over the shorter-driving Tangtiphaiboontana. Surprisingly, it wasn’t length that doomed Tangtiphaiboontana – it was her short game.

Park drew first blood on the 352-yard par-4 3rd, when Tangtiphaiboontana two-putted from 20 feet. Three holes later, on No. 6, Tangtiphaiboontana tried putting out of fringe rough. Instead, she three-putted and conceded the hole.

On No. 9, a 381-yard par 4 that has an elevated green, Tangtiphaiboontana fell behind by three when she couldn’t guide in a 7-footer. It went left.

A carbon copy of No. 9, Tangtiphaiboontana again missed a 7-footer left on the next hole. It was a crucial miss because had she sunk the putt she would have cut the deficit to two.

Another short miss occurred on No. 10.

“When I missed on 10, I was like, ‘Whatever, I still have eight holes left,” said Tangtiphaiboontana.

A strength of her game all week, Tangtiphaiboontana’s putting woes continued on No. 11, a 528-yard par 5. Looking at a slight downslope while addressing her ball, she knocked a10-footer just short of the hole and dipped her head in frustration. The hole was halved and Park remained 3 up.

On the next hole, with a chance at birdie and the hole, Tangtiphaiboontana punched a 6-footer right. She again sunk her head.

“I misread a lot. I didn’t know which way [the ball] would break,” said Tangtiphaiboontana.

Park put the chokehold on No. 13, a 373-yard par 4. After getting on in two, Park converted on an 8-foot putt to go 4 up. At that point, park said she knew she was in complete control.

“When I was 4 down,” said Tangtiphaiboontana, “I was like, ‘Oh, 4 down. I don’t know if I have a chance to win.’

Park finally ended the match on the 15th hole. When Tangtiphaiboontana sent her approach 12 feet past the hole and could only two-putt, the stage was set for Park’s 8-footer for victory. She didn’t miss.

The U.S. Girls’ Junior is one of 13 championships conducted by the United States Golf Association each year, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

The U.S. Girls’ Junior was open to female amateur golfers who had not reached their 18th birthday before July 27, 2002, and had USGA Handicap Indexes not exceeding 18.4.

The field was reduced to 64 players after two rounds of stroke play, then to the final two by the end of Friday.