Park In-bee makes history in Rio

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Park In-bee makes history in Rio


Park In-bee of South Korea reacts after winning the gold medal on the 18th hole during the final round of the women’s golf event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday. Park became the only golfer in the history of the sport to have titles from four major championships and the Olympics. [NEWSIS]

Park In-bee spent the first half of this year fighting injuries to her back and her thumb. The severity of the injuries forced the 28-year-old LPGA hall of famer to consider pulling out of the Olympics - even though the Rio Games were the first time the women’s golf event was held in 116 years.

Luckily, Park went to Rio. For now, Park is not only the first Korean to have completed a Career Grand Slam - a title given to a pro golfer who wins four different major tournaments - but she has become the first female golfer in over a century to take home Olympic gold.

Amid windy conditions on Saturday during the final round of the women’s tournament at the Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, Park shot five-under 66 to aggregate 16-under 268 for the entire tournament. She finished five strokes clear of runner-up Lydia Ko of New Zealand, who shot two-under 69 for a four-day total of 11-under.

“Well it definitely feels unreal,” Park said after her win. “This is something I’ve been really dreaming of doing this week and to get to represent your country in the Olympic Games and be able to get a gold medal is such a special feeling.

“I’ve gone through some tough times,” she said, “but this is definitely a big relief.”

Park is the only golfer in the history of the sport to have titles from four major championships and the Olympics. But her journey to become one of the most decorated female golfers has been long and rocky.

In 2000, at the age of 12, Park moved to the United States to pursue a career in golf. It did not take long for the young Park to rise as a prodigy to watch: she topped the U.S. Girls’ Junior at the age of 14. Six years later, Park claimed the title from the U.S. Women’s Open at the age of 19 years and 11 months, the youngest player to ever win the event.

Then Park faded out of the spotlight, going without an LPGA win since the 2008 U.S. Open for the next three years. It was Park’s marriage to Nam Gi-hyeob, her swing coach, that provided a passage out of the slump. In July 2012, after she and Nam were engaged, she added another LPGA title, winning the Evian Masters. She earned the Career Grand Slam in 2015 by taking the trophy at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, becoming the seventh golfer in the history of the LPGA to accomplish the feat.

But another slump mired Park’s otherwise near-perfect career. This time around, it was injuries that held her down. Although she was inducted to the LPGA hall of fame after competing in this year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the youngest player in the history to qualify, she withdrew from events or didn’t make cuts during the first half of the season. She was totally out of action for two months, trying to mend her physical problems in anticipation of the Olympics. Without tangible signs of recovery, Park even considered calling it quits, saying, “If I’m not at my full condition, I kind of feel like I have to give a chance to somebody else who can perform better than me.”

But as she did in the past, she emerged from her slump and saw the triumph of taking gold in Rio.

“This really could be the highlight of my career,” Park said according to Golf Digest. “I was lucky enough to have the opportunity. We have five major tournaments a year. I’ve won a lot of the major championships. The Olympic Games: you get to do it only once every four years ... It’s a huge honor and I think it could be the highlight of my golfing career.”

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