HSBC Women's Champions 2017

Golf: Setting the gold standard

World No. 12 Park In Bee, the winner of the 2015 HSBC Women's Champions title, looks on as defending champion Jang Ha Na, the world No. 6, finds her range at the Sentosa Golf Club yesterday.
World No. 12 Park In Bee, the winner of the 2015 HSBC Women's Champions title, looks on as defending champion Jang Ha Na, the world No. 6, finds her range at the Sentosa Golf Club yesterday.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Olympic champion Park In Bee has rekindled the desire to add to her list of achievements

Winning the gold medal at last year's Rio Olympics may have put an exclamation mark on a standout resume but it also forced Park In Bee to question the need for more chapters in her career.

Besides her seven Majors - Park is the seventh player, and second youngest, to complete the overall career Grand Slam - the South Korean was also a former world No. 1 and had held the top ranking for 92 weeks.

Last June, at the age of 27, she became the youngest player to qualify for the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame.

The summit had been reached, the mountain conquered. It appeared as if there were no new horizons to pursue and Park was also struggling with ligament injuries in her left thumb.

After 11 seasons as a professional, she was "really burnt out" and talk of retirement was swirling around the Tour.

The six-month break (she missed 19 Tour events) after her effort in Brazil has quashed any desire to walk away from the game and has instead reinvigorated Park, who made her competitive return at last week's Honda LPGA Thailand where she finished tied-25th at five-under-par.

FRANK ASSESSMENT

In Bee's such a solid player, not really any weaknesses. She's sneaky long off the tee, but hits it straight (which shows) how consistent she is. I love watching her putt because I know she's going to make everything.

LEXI THOMPSON, with her critique of the overall skills of her South Korean rival Park In Bee.

The world No. 12 said yesterday: "I thought maybe I played enough golf, that I would get tired from golf. But after a couple of months, I started feeling that I want to play golf again, and I want to see the girls out here and I want to compete in tournaments."

Given her pedigree - she has 17 Tour titles and earned almost US$13 million (S$18.2 million) - Park has arrived at the Sentosa Golf Club not simply to make up the numbers.

Instead, she believes she has the talent to triumph again at the HSBC Women's Champions, making her the first two-time winner of the prestigious tournament.

The 2015 winner is one of the game's best putters - from 2013 to 2015 when she won 14 times, Park was ranked first, first and third in putts per greens in regulation - though she admitted her short game was rusty and needed to improve, particularly on the unfamiliar greens at the New Tanjong Course.

The US$1.5 million tournament is being staged at the new par-72, 6,108m layout for the first time, having been held at the adjacent Serapong Course for the past four years.

  • HSBC WOMEN'S CHAMPIONS

    WHEN

    Tomorrow to Sunday

    WHERE

    Sentosa Golf Club, New Tanjong Course

    PRIZE MONEY

    US$1.5 million (S$2.11 million)

    WHO

    An elite 63-woman field with 19 of the world's top 20 golfers, including Lydia Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn, Lexi Thompson, Jang Ha Na and Michelle Wie.

    TICKETS

    Daily from $20, season pass is $60. Free entry for those 16 and below. Go to apactix.com for more information.

The new surroundings would be a stern test for the elite 63-player field, said world No. 5 Lexi Thompson, and would favour someone with Park's ability on the greens.

The 22-year-old American said: "In Bee's such a solid player, not really any weaknesses. She's sneaky long off the tee, but hits it straight (which shows) how consistent she is. I love watching her putt because I know she's going to make everything."

Besides 2014 US Women's Open winner Thompson, Park will have to contend with a world-class line-up that features 19 of the top 20 female golfers and includes top-ranked Lydia Ko, world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and defending HSBC champion Jang Ha Na (No. 6).

But a motivated and recharged Park is a formidable opponent. She said: "I think my long game is definitely there to win. But my short game and putting wasn't quite there last week...

"Around the greens, I made a few mistakes but I think they can go away pretty quickly. But you've got to hole some putts to score well."

While much of her off-season was spent raising her new golden retriever - his name is Rio, after the scene of one of Park's greatest accomplishments - Park was fully focused on reclaiming her status as the top dog.

She said: "Being able to go out there and play golf, that's something I've learnt to appreciate. That's what I'm trying to do, and obviously win some golf tournaments, including the Majors."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Setting the gold standard'. Print Edition | Subscribe