RIO DE JANEIRO • Park In Bee has two words for doubters who thought she should sit out the Olympics and give her spot to another South Korean golfer: gold medal.
Her commanding five-stroke victory in the first women's Olympic golf tournament since 1900 was a surprise to those who follow the sport and knew Park had not been playing like herself this season.
Plagued by a thumb injury, she missed two months of competitive play including two Majors this year.
Then, when she returned to the game in a South Korean event two weeks before the Olympics, she missed the cut.
"Back in Korea, when I made my decision, a lot of people were saying maybe it might better for a fellow South Korean player to be in the field. That is understandable, but I wanted to play well this week to show a lot of people that I still can play," she said.
Park, who adds her gold medal to seven Major wins and the honour of being the youngest Ladies Professional Golf Association Hall of Fame qualifier at 28, was in vintage form in Rio.
She announced her arrival by firing a bogey-free opening round on Wednesday on the first day of the tournament.
She went on to shoot a five-under 66 for three of the four rounds and only stumbled with a 70 in the third round in very windy conditions for a 268 total.
World No. 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand took the silver (69, 70, 65, 69 - 273) and China's Feng Shanshan the bronze (70, 67, 68, 69 - 274).
How did Park come back from oblivion? "I have been working with two coaches since last month. Because of the injury, my swing wasn't swinging the way I wanted and I didn't know exactly what the problem was," she said.
"My new coach, my husband's friends, found some new points in my swing and we worked on that so I was hitting the ball much better than I was a couple of months ago."
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said it was "definitely an 'in your face victory' given all the pressure she was facing".
Park's victory was played out before a big crowd, belying the predictions of many critics that both golf competitions would be played out in front of a man and a dog.
After the fallout from the withdrawal of the world's leading men, some citing concerns over the Zika virus while others claimed it did not fit their schedules, the golf tournaments have been a resounding success.
The Olympic Golf Course at Reserva de Marapendi was purpose-built for the Games. Despite fears it would not be ready in time, it has turned out to be a magnificent layout and will be open to the public from today.
Gary Player, the South Africa team captain, said: "This is not a golfing country but if you look at the crowds who have come out and the network ratings around the world, in some of the countries the ratings have been higher than the British Open, the oldest and most famous tournament in the world.
"The women have been unbelievable and the men have been unbelievable. I can tell you this, when we and they go to Japan, there'll be 30,000 people a day watching on the course."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN