Grace Park shot a 66 to lead the SBS Open before yesterday's first round was suspended.
Park’s back in gear
She's the clubhouse leader at 6 under at Turtle Bay
Grace Park never comes to the golf course without two Advil and a back brace handy thanks to a Mid-Pac flexibility test gone awry.
And while she could joke about it after yesterday's opening round of the $1 million SBS Open at Turtle Bay, her bad back was no laughing matter for her in 2005. She didn't manage a win for the first time since qualifying for the LPGA Tour in 2000, forcing her to realign her thinking in the offseason.
The former Hawaii resident couldn't wait to put the past on a back burner and it showed during ideal conditions at the Turtle Bay Resort. Her 6-under 66 left her as the leader in the clubhouse of the rain-delayed event. Becky Iverson was 6 under through 15. She and Park were two shots clear of veteran Sherri Turner and second-year players Allison Hanna and Meena Lee at the first full-field event of the season. Kyeong Bae was also 4 under for the tournament, but was only through 15 holes when the horn sounded.
An overnight downpour that hung around until the early morning forced LPGA Tour officials to delay the start of 2006 by 50 minutes. It means 27 golfers will finish the first round today, including Japanese sensation Ai Miyazato, who was 2 under through 14.
Morgan Pressel completed her round just before the sun set, finishing at 2-under 70. Rookie of the year Paula Creamer suffered a triple bogey at the par-3 13th to come in at 2-over 74. Defending champion Jennifer Rosales also came in with a 74. There were 29 golfers who shot 1 under or better, with that number set to improve once the round is completed.
Because of the sloppy track early on, the players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway. But by the time Park teed it up, the rain was gone, the wind was down and the greens were soft -- a perfect time to take advantage of the difficult Arnold Palmer-designed course.
"I'm waiting for this day for the past six weeks, really working hard on my game and getting my strength back and waiting for that first day of the new season," Park said. "And I had a little butterflies in my stomach this season starting off the round. I'm happy and relieved to get the first round out of the way and shooting the first score of 66, I'm very happy."
Happiness wasn't Park's playing partner last season. Her best finish was a tie for fifth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. After posting 43 top 10s from 2002-04, Park had only four last year as she tried to deal with the pain and the effects it had on her golf swing.
"To be honest, my back is tight right now," Park said in the interview room. "It gets tight every day after a round. I have worked hard with my trainer to strengthen my back in order to keep the pain away. But it's something that I will have to deal with as long as I play golf. You know, keep my fingers crossed in the morning that I'm pain-free."
She can trace her pain back to a seventh-grade flexibility test at Mid-Pacific Institute. For the 26-year-old, it's not her fondest memory here.
fondest memory here.
"Yeah, we were doing stretching, like a flexibility test," Park said. "And I tried to go really forward, and then it was stuck. I was playing golf at the time too, and I couldn't swing because it was so painful. But everybody thought it was a fluke, that I was faking the pain, so I didn't have to practice. And part of it was probably true."
If Park remains healthy over the next 36 holes, she will be tough to handle. Turner, who won at Turtle Bay in 1989 at the Orix Hawaiian Ladies Open, took a trip down memory lane with a 4-under 68.
The South Carolina native plans to retire after this year and said yesterday she is the oldest player out here this week. Turner turns 50 in October, but is enjoying competing against women half her age.
"I was looking around yesterday and I was thinking I am at a college tournament and I'm the coach," Turner said, then smiled. "I have all of these kids here. I have had some looks from people like, you are a player?"
Nobody said that of Hanna and Lee, who are trying to create some good memories of their own. Lee won as a rookie last year, finishing seventh on the money list with $870,182. Had it not been for Creamer's sensational season, Lee would have been the tour's rookie of the year.
Hanna hasn't had that kind of success just yet. Her tie for 28th last year is her best finish. The Ohio State graduate has played in only eight previous events, making the cut in five.
"The first events you are not sure what is going to happen," Hanna said. "(I learned) just kind of how it works out here. How the players are (and to) get a good feel of it."
Iverson had a great feel yesterday, especially on the greens. She managed eight birdies over 15 holes with a pair of three-putt bogeys.
"I thought the course played easier today than in the practice rounds," Iverson said. "It wasn't nearly as windy as Monday and Tuesday, when it was brutal. I made a lot of putts today. You never complain when the ball is going in the hole."