Geum Yi

Park Inbee is first Korean to win Player of the Year

November 18, 2013

France Golf Evian Masters

Park In-bee became the first Korean to clinch the LPGA Tour’s Player of the Year honors in Mexico on Sunday.

With a fourth-place finish at 11-under par at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico, Park secured enough points to secure the title. In a race more interesting than the one for the tournament title, the 25-year old South Korean fended off surging Norwegian Suzann Pettersen on the last day, 69-70, to earn the decisive one point.

Park had entered the tournament holding a 290-252 lead over Pettersen for the Player of the Year award. Golfers are awarded points for their top-10 finishes, with the winner getting 30 points and the runner-up receiving 12 points, and so forth. Points are doubled for the five major championships.

Park’s fourth-place finish gave her seven points and Pettersen earned six points for fifth place. Now trailing 297 to 258, Pettersen will not be able to catch Park even if she wins the season-ending CME Group Titleholders this week in Naples, Florida.

Americans Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis finished 1-2 in the tournament, by the way.

The honors cap off a historic season for Park. She won the first three majors of the year, becoming the first to do so since Babe Zaharias in 1950, when there were only three majors in a year.

Park won six tournaments overall through June but faltered during the second half of the season. Since winning the U.S. Women’s Open for her third straight major in 2013, Park recorded just two top-10 finishes in nine starts with no victories.

With Park scuffling, Pettersen crept up the board in the points race for the top player award and made the race more interesting. Three of her four wins in 2013 came after September, and she reeled off nine straight top-10 finishes since missing the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Pettersen ran out of tournaments to catch Park but she still has a shot to overtake the South Korean on the tour’s money list. Park is the leading money winner so far with $2.39 million, and Pettersen is lurking behind with $2.28 million. The winner’s check at CME Group Titleholders is $700,000.

The Player of the Year award was first presented in 1966. Despite South Korea’s dominance on the LPGA Tour over the past decade or so, no golfer from the country had claimed this award, not even Pak Se Ri, until Park did so this year.

Before Park, Shin Ji-yai had come the closest to taking it in 2009 but she fell one point short of Ochoa, who zipped past her on the final day of the season for her fourth and last Player of the Year award.

Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam leads the all-time list with eight awards.Park said becoming the first winner of the award from her country made her feat extra special. “We’ve had so many great Korean players on the LPGA Tour, and I found it strange that we’ve never had a Player of the Year,” Park said. “It’s an honor to have done something significant for Korean golf. I am sure the younger generation of golfers will be motivated and inspired to reach greater heights.”

Despite her sluggish second half, Park said she was “200 percent satisfied” about her 2013 season, and said clinching the top player honors was her most memorable moment of the year. “Through the midway point in the season, I thought everything I’d set out to do would come easily,” she said. “But nothing was easy, and because of that, I will remember this season even more.”

Park will have the money title on the line at the CME Group Titleholders but she said she won’t be too caught up with it as she finishes the season. “I already won the money title last year, so it’s okay even if I don’t win it this year,” she said. “Every title that comes after the Player of the Year will be a bonus to me,” she said.