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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Out of the Park

Out of the Park

Las Vegas legend Inbee Park is one of the greatest women players in golf history, and it all began right here in the city that glitters.

Story by Brian Hurlburt


One can only imagine how other Southern Nevada high school golfers must have felt teeing it up against Inbee Park while she was playing at Bishop Gorman High School here in Las Vegas. Not only was she winning Nevada state team and individual championships at the time, but she was also finishing in the top 10 of the local LPGA Tour event as an amateur.

Talk about intimidation.

Park won back-to-back individual state titles in 2004 and 2005, and she and her Gaels teammates also won the team trophy in 2005. Park played in the hometown LPGA Tour Takefuji Classic from 2004 to 2006, turning heads and wowing veteran LPGA Tour players with her skill and mental toughness. Park finished in the top 10 twice, including a tie for fifth in 2005.

From her time at Gorman and honing her skills at Las Vegas golf courses, Park has matured into one of the best players of her—or any other—generation. As of this writing in the fall of 2016, Park has won 17 times on the LPGA Tour including seven majors. She was the 2013 LPGA Tour Player of the Year, is already qualified for induction into the LPGA Hall of Fame, and has earned close to $13 million in her career.

A member at TPC Summerlin, Park got to know the staff and some of the members during her time there, including General Manager Lee Smith, who says Park is good on and off the course.

“From what I’ve ever observed about Inbee is that her golf swing emulates the way she goes about her life, and I mean that in a very good way,” Smith says. “She has that long, slow and smooth swing, and whenever she’s here, she’s very laid back and has built friendly relationships with our staff. We are very proud as a PGA Tour facility to also have one of the best LPGA Tour players in the world as a member.”

In the summer of 2016, Park added Gold Medalist to her bio by winning in grand fashion at the Rio Olympics. Summerlin honored the achievement by hanging a banner in her honor. Park battled a thumb injury throughout the year, missing several tournaments, but dedicated herself to representing her home country of South Korea in the games. It was an event she wouldn’t miss.

Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame inductee and Golf Channel analyst Jerry Foltz summed up the common thought about Park entering the Olympics, given she hadn’t competed hardly at all prior to the Games.

“She is acting like the Inbee of old,” Foltz says. “It is no secret she caught everybody by surprise this week, including most of us, by the play she has put together. I said it before the week started, if Inbee were to get a medal here, it would be more of a surprise to me than just about anything.”

Golf Digest writer Alan Shipnuck hopes Park’s performance at the Olympics would bring more attention to the level Park has displayed over the previous decade and throughout her career.

“With her glittering performance at the Rio Games, hopefully Park will receive the larger acclaim she so richly deserves,” Shipnuck wrote. “She turned the final round of this grand Olympic experiment into a coronation, winning by five strokes to become the second Olympic champion in women's golf, following Margaret Abbott in 1900.”

Park’s surreal victory left her feeling emotions she had never experienced after winning other tournaments.

"I feel extremely honored and proud that I get to win a gold medal in the Olympic Games," Park told the media following the round. "It feels truly unreal. I am just so happy to be standing on the highest spot on the podium. I have won many tournaments, but I have never felt this before."

Park has two main nicknames: Queen Bee and Silent Assassin. Fortunately, the Silent Assassin agreed to break her silence via email and discuss her Las Vegas memories with this writer. Here is the Queen, in her words:

LVG&L: What is the first thing that comes to your mind about living and growing up in Las Vegas?

IP: I really enjoy living in Vegas. I met a lot of good friends and people. And also it is a great place to travel nationwide and it makes it easy to get anywhere. There are also a lot of good golf courses and the not overly cold weather was a big help for junior golf.

LVG&L: What are your memories of winning two state high school titles while at Bishop Gorman?

IP: I had so much fun playing for Gorman. I had great teammates and it was a great school for athletes. Being able to enjoy school life and achieve a big national title was amazing. 

Note: Park won the 2002 U.S. Girl’s Junior Amateur and was runner-up in 2003 and 2005. She was a semi-finalist at the 2003 U. S. Women’s Amateur.

LVG&L: What teammates do you remember and do you keep in touch with any of them?

IP: I still keep in touch with a few of them and one of the friends, Angelica Wright, is visiting me in Korea this winter. 

LVGL: What was it like playing in the Takefuji Classic at Las Vegas Country Club as a young amateur?

IP: It was truly a dream come true. To play in a professional level at such a young age was unreal. 

LVG&L: How were you able to have such success at a young age again in the Takefuji?

IP: I was very used to Las Vegas Country Club because I played the course many times being close to school. And also I had so many fans and friends who came out to cheer, which was really good momentum to have. 

LVG&L: What is something that people don't know about Inbee Park?

IP: I don't think many people know I spent my high school years in Vegas! And I still live in Vegas!

LVG&L: What courses did you play most growing up?

IP: Bears Best Las Vegas and Red Rock Country Club was the school’s home course.

LVG&L: Now you are a member at TPC Summerlin. What do you think of TPC and being a member there? 

IP: It has a great facility to practice and play. And the conditions of the course are very steady all around the year, which is what I need. It has the privacy I need and is very close to my Summerlin home.

LVG&L: What is your favorite thing about living in Las Vegas? How much time do you spend in Las Vegas?

IP: I spend at least 10 weeks a year in Vegas.  I love food and wine, and there is no better place in the world to enjoy those two! Also, it is a small city so it is easy to get in and out and being a visitor’s city there are a lot of direct flights available to anywhere around the world.

LVG&L: You used to work with Shawn Callahan at Butch Harmon School. Did you work with other instructors here and what is a memory of working with Shawn?

I worked with Shawn while I was going to high school. He was very helpful and a really good friend. 

LVG&L: Is it true you enrolled at UNLV for a brief time?

IP: Yes, that is true. I was thinking maybe I can go to school and play professional golf at the same time, but soon I realized that it was too hard.

LVG&L: How do you define the word excellence and do you have any inspirational quotes that motivate you?

IP: I really don't think there is such a thing as perfect. But we always try our hardest to get closest to perfect. As long as you have the passion and enthusiasm you are never going to lose. You may make mistakes, but mistakes don't mean anything. It's just an experience on the journey.

Park Victories

2003 US Girl’s Junior Amateur

2004 Nevada State High School Championship

2005 Nevada State High School Championship

2008 U.S. Women's Open

2012 Evian Masters

2012 Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia

2013 Honda LPGA Thailand

2013 Kraft Nabisco Championship

2013 North Texas LPGA Shootout

2013 Wegmans LPGA Championship

2013 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

2013 U.S. Women's Open

2014 Manulife Financial LPGA Classic

2014 Wegmans LPGA Championship

2014 Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship

2015 HSBC Women's Champions

2015 Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout

2015 KPMG Women's PGA Championship

2016 Gold Medalist, Olympics

2015 Ricoh Women's British Open

2015 Lorena Ochoa Invitational

Park Awards

2012 and 2015 Vare Trophy, Tour Money Winner

2015 Rolex ANNIKA Major Award

2012 and 2013 LPGA Tour Money Winner

2013 Rolex Player of the Year

2013 GWAA Female Player of the Year

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