Park bombs it off the tee for USC

Here’s today’s column on USC freshman golfer Annie Park, who was tied for the lead heading into today’s final round.

JILL PAINTER on GOLF: USC freshman Park finding place up front at Pac-12 tournament
By Jill Painter, Staff Columnist
Posted: 04/23/2013 11:03:30 PM PDT
Updated: 04/23/2013 11:16:11 PM PDT

VALENCIA — Annie Park should be in high school, getting ready for her prom and playing the course she grew up on, Bethpage.

Park will return to New York in June for that final high school dance and while she won’t be wearing the queen’s crown, she will have one and maybe more collegiate golf tournament titles.

The USC freshman, who started school in January and turned 18 earlier this month, cracked the top five on the Trojans women’s golf team, won a tournament a month into her career and now is tied for the lead at 4-under with Stanford’s Mariah Stackhouse here at the Pac-12 Women’s Golf Championships at Valencia Country Club after two rounds.

She’ll play in the final group in today’s final round and draw on her vast experience, like qualifying and playing in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. She’d rather come from further back in the field, but the long-hitting newcomer will have a new test.

“I’d rather chase, but that’s just the way I think,” Park said. “I can play with the lead, too.”

Everything must seem easy when you learn how to play golf at Bethpage Black – site of the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens – and the other four courses there.

She won the 2012 Nassau Boys High School Championships by six shots there, becoming the first girl to ever win it.

“Apparently it was a big deal,” Park said with a shy laugh.

The course is about 7,200 yards, but that’s not intimidating when you’re a big hitter and live eight

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minutes from the course and play there all the time. And that’s what people like to see. Park – who’s 5-foot-9 – can has had 300-yard drives before.

“I try to take advantage of my physical skills,” Park said. “Personally, I feel more happy when I’m making putts. Today, I couldn’t make anything from 15 feet and in. I’m more happy when I’m making putts. But I do feel good when I hit it well.”

Park typically outdrives her playing partners, but when she doesn’t: “I think they get happy when they hit it farther than me.”

USC coach Andrea Gaston knew about Park when she noticed her hometown Levittown, which is where her parents’ best friends live. She started recruiting her and once Park came for a visit, she fell in love with the campus and sun. She chose USC over Duke and Vanderbilt.

“She can bomb it and if her putter would be working, she’d be shooting really low scores,” USC coach Andrea Gaston said. “She seems to be able to focus well and stay in the moment. That’s a special quality for a young player.”

Her first victory was at the Bruin Wave Invitational at El Caballero Country Club in February, a 15-team event. She led after the first day and again took the lead in the third round and then won.

She isn’t all about golf and likes to dance.

“I keep telling my teammates that we need to make a video,” Park said.

After the season, she’ll head back to New York for that dance.

“I made up my mind, I’m going to prom,” Park said. “It will be my last high school event.”

She should have plenty of promising golf events in her future.

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About Jill Painter

Jill Painter is a sports columnist for the Los Angeles News Group, covering everything from the Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers, USC, UCLA, Kings, golf and all human interest stories in sports.