Korean tour star goes from gallery to top of LPGA leader board

October 15, 2015
Park Sung-hyun of South Korea acknowledges spectators after sinking a birdie putt on the 18th green during the first round of the KEB Hana Bank Championship golf tournament at Sky72 Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Park Sung-hyun of South Korea acknowledges spectators after sinking a birdie putt on the 18th green during the first round of the KEB Hana Bank Championship golf tournament at Sky72 Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

INCHEON (Yonhap) — In 12 months, Park Sung-hyun, a Korea LPGA (KLPGA) Tour hotshot, has gone from the gallery to the top of the leader board at the lone LPGA Tour event on home soil.

Park shot a blistering, bogey-free round of 10-under 62 on Thursday to open the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in Incheon on Thursday, setting a course record at the par-72, 6,364-yard Ocean Course at Sky 72 Golf & Resort.

A three-time KLPGA winner in 2015, the 22-year-old said she watched last year’s LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship as a fan, with only the top dozen KLPGA money leaders earning invitations to the tournament.

This time around, Park played her way into the lone LPGA event in South Korea, as No. 2 on the KLPGA money list, and she said her experience last year came in handy in her first LPGA round.

“I don’t usually remember a course well unless I see it a few times,” she said. “And coming here as a spectator definitely helped. It looked easy from outside the rope, but as I practiced here, I realized it was far from being easy.”

Park did what all great athletes do — making difficult feats look easy. She made five birdies on the front nine and five more on the back nine, often leaving herself birdie putts of shorter than 10 feet.

Park, who has won two of her last three KLPGA events, is the longest hitter on the Korean tour, with 256.7 yards off the tee. She was paired with one of the LPGA’s bombers, Lexi Thompson, who was averaging 267.8 yards from the tee heading into this event.

She said she and Thompson were back and forth in terms of the distance of their drives — not that she was paying too much attention to who was driving it longer.

Park was battling flu earlier in the week, which forced her to switch to lighter shafts, and she said her illness may have been a blessing in disguise.

“I think it forced me to concentrate even harder,” she said. “I think Lexi may be more physically gifted, but I may have better swing speed.”

Park didn’t have a win in 24 starts on the KLPGA Tour last year, but has three wins in 24 events this year. She credited her successful season to her maturity on and off the course.

“I’ve been a perfectionist when it comes to golf, and I wasn’t happy with my swing last year,” she said. “So I worked on it extensively over the winter, and I’ve developed a consistent rhythm. Also, I’ve grown more used to playing in last pairings with good players, and I’ve become much stronger mentally. I think I’ve taken a step forward.”

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