Planet Golf — 10 June 2016 by Jim Street
Park youngest LPGA Hall of Famer

SAMMAMISH, Wa. – A routine, tap-in putt on the 18th hole at Sahalee Country Club on Thursday was more than just another round-ending stroke for Inbee Park.

It was a Hall of Fame-clinching putt.

The 72nd shot of Park’s first round in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship officially qualified her for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

“It feels very special because it starts back and I just started playing golf and watching a lot of players on TV thinking that I want to be there,” said Park. “I want to be on the LPGA Tour. And once I got on the LPGA Tour, the Hall of Fame became an ultimate goal, just naturally.

“Nobody told me the Hall of Fame should be your last goal or anything like that. But it just came so naturally that I wanted to be up with the greatest players in the history.”

The LPGA’s Rookie of the Year in 2007, Park fulfilled the 10-year membership requirement for HOF qualification with her 10th start of the 2016 season. She fulfilled the 27-point requirement at the end of last season when she won her second career Vare Trophy, given to the player with the lowest scoring average for the year.

“I feel truly blessed,” said Park.

There had been speculation that Park would only play one round then withdraw because of nagging thumb injury, but she said the taped thumb held up well and she plans to play on Friday. She has won the tournament three consecutive years.

Park, 27, becomes the youngest player to qualify for the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame and the first player to qualify since fellow South Korean Se Ri Pak in 2007. She is the 24th player overall to qualify for the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame.

When all three players in her group reached the 18th green, Park’s playing companions — Paula Creamer and Ariya Jutanugarn — putted out and gave the stage to Park, who two-putted to end the round.

She was greeted by a group of fellow LPGA Tour players, friends and family on the green and was presented a large bouquet of flowers.

“It felt such special, especially I didn’t expect Se Ri, Annika, Laura, Webbie and Juli to come out and congratulate me at all,” said Park. “So I was really, really surprised to see them and it just felt so much more special seeing a lot of those players — legendary players that I have been looking up to when I was growing up. And actually being able to see them after the round and waiting for me after the round with my smiley face.”

Park has 17 career LPGA Tour wins, including seven major championships. She became the second youngest and seventh overall player to complete the Career Grand Slam (winning four different majors) with her win at the 2015 RICOH Women’s British Open. Park earned Rolex Player of the Year honors in 2013 and has held the No. 1 world ranking for a total of 92 weeks in her career, the third most by a player since the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, which started in 2006.

She earned the required number of points (27) to qualify for the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame at the CME Group Tour Championship on November 19, 2015 when she was awarded the Vare Trophy for having the lowest scoring average (69.41) during the 2015 season.

“I didn’t really think about the Hall of Fame until maybe a couple of years ago because I thought the criteria to get in the Hall of Fame was such a hard thing and I thought that I had a long ways to go,” said Park. “So I thought it was a long dream.

“But it definitely came quicker than I thought. And it obviously wasn’t easy to get there. There were some very hard moments and very successful moments altogether and made me who I am right now.”

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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