Park In-bee refuses to settle amid success

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Park In-bee refuses to settle amid success

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Golfer Park In-bee’s hopes to take home the gold at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. [joongang photo]

Golfer Park In-bee seemed to have it all last year.

After becoming the first Asian to achieve a career Grand Slam, she secured a spot in the LPGA Hall of Fame. But there’s one goal still driving her this year: winning gold at the Summer Olympics.

At this year’s games in Rio de Janeiro, golf will debut as an official Olympic sport for the first time in 112 years. Park, 27, said it would be an honor just to participate in the event.

“I’ve always envied the athletes who get to compete in the Olympics,” Park said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. “It seems like a dream that golf has finally become an Olympic sport.”

Park, a 17-time LPGA Tour winner, added that, like always, she plans to maintain her composure.

“It would be nice if I got to represent Korea and won gold, but I won’t get greedy,” she said. “I won’t think about the title; I’ll just try to do my best on each shot just like I have been doing.”

Park saw five wins in 2015, two of which were major tournaments. After winning the British Women’s Open in August, she became the first Asian golfer to achieve a career Grand Slam.

But despite losing her prize money title and World No. 1 ranking to 18-year-old rival Lydia Ko, Park led in terms of scoring, adding a final point for the LPGA Hall of Fame qualification.

“I think in golf and in life, there is no such thing as ‘perfect,’” she said. “I’m little regretful because I lost a couple of titles at the end, but that’s golf. It pushes me to work harder.”

Still, Park has no intention to settle. She likes to read books and studies on her swing.

“I learned lot of things from other famous athletes’ biographies,” she said. “I like to visualize my plays at home instead of spending time on the training fields. I use the training fields to test something I thought about on the previous day.”

She added that it was her husband who opened up a new chapter in her golf game. Park tied the knot with former professional golfer Nam Gi-hyup in 2014.

“I fell in a slump after I won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2008,” she said. “But from my husband, I realized there were other ways to play golf.”

Park’s current swing style is the result of a collaboration with her husband. The two have worked together since November 2011. Park said she changed follow-through in her swing a lot since 2011.

“Back in the past, I had good swing rhythm, but it wasn’t the right type of swing for me,” she said. “I used my hand and wrist in my swing a lot in the past, but now, I changed my swing so that I can utilize my torso.”

Since finishing the 2015 season in November, has simply focused on spending time with family and friends. And rather than putting in time on the practice field, she’s spent her free time with her puppy.

“I like animals,” she said. “Recently, I tried to raise baby tiger, but I had to give it up because my husband didn’t like it. But I really want to have baby tiger one day.”

On Dec. 31, Park visited the local charity group Himango, where she donated 10 million won ($8,231).

But that was just one of the several donations she made last year: In 2015, Park donated more than 100 million won of her own money to help people in need.

“I want to pay back people’s love and support in this kind of way,” she said. “I feel happy and proud after donating.”

Off the green, Park set a new goal for 2016 ? to write in her diary each day. Everything in the world provides a lesson, she said.

“Just like golf, I think life is about studying continuously,” she said. “I want to live more happily tomorrow than today.”

Park will also celebrate a decade as a professional golfer this year.

But obtaining a Grand Slam title and a spot in the Hall of Fame doesn’t mean her golf days are finished.

“In the past, I played with the pressure that I needed to win titles,” she said. “But in this year, I want to enjoy golf, not stick to the result.”

BY LEE JI-YEON, JOO KYUNG-DON [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]

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