Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Friday, June 11, 1999

Park’s ready to
launch her pro career

AMAZING Grace. The golf tournament to watch this week -- at least I know I'll be keeping tabs on it on the Internet - is the LPGA Futures Tour event in Pewaukee, Wisc.

Reigning U.S. Amateur and NCAA champion Grace Park, who got started in junior golf here, makes her professional debut in the 54-hole Aurora Health Care Classic that begins today.

Park, 20, is giving up her final year of eligibility at Arizona State, where she twice won All-American honors, to hit golf's money trail.

She played her final event as an amateur last week in the U.S. Women's Open because of an exemption as the 1998 U.S. Women's Amateur champion.

Park wouldn't have been eligible as a professional. Too bad, because Park finished tied for eighth, which would have earned $45,244 had she been a professional.

Now Park feels she's ready to move up another notch in her game. And she wants to do it the old-fashioned way, by earning it on the Futures Tour.

The Korean native turned down three exemptions into LPGA Tour events and decided to earn her way onto next year's tour. The top three money winners on the LPGA developmental tour earn exemptions for 2000.

"If I don't (win enough money to finish among the top three money winners), then I'll go to Q-School next fall," Park told the Arizona Republic.

Longer off the tee than Se Ri Pak, the other celebrated Korean golfer, Park figures to have no trouble getting her LPGA Tour playing card, one way or another.

Even as a 12-year-old, Park had "world-class" stamped on her game, according to Les Uyehara, her first local instructor.

"At 12, she could already hit the ball. She was only one club shorter than me," Uyehara said. "Her swing was already in place. It was just a matter of refining her technique."

At first, communication was difficult because Park was just learning English and Uyehara didn't know Korean. "We communicated by body English," Uyehara said.

Both of Park's parents are club champions back home in South Korea.

The father, Soo Nam Park, a wealthy Seoul restaurateur, decided to send his daughter to live in Phoenix when she reached high school age.

"Locally, the competition wasn't there. And the American Junior Golf Association program in Arizona is almost like a mini-tour," Uyehara said.

"They could see the future for her. Plus, they could afford it," Uyehara said about the move, which is now on the verge of paying off.

MAUI NO KA OI: Not surprisingly, it was a fun week for golfers in the Maui Open last week. University of Hawaii coaches Riley Wallace, June Jones, Vince Goo and Les Murakami led the celebrity field.

Henry Sieradzki, an assistant pro at Kaneohe Klipper, won his first local Open championship with a final-round 71 for a 213 total. Stan Hashimoto won A-flight with a 54-hole net score of 191, while Patrick Campos took B-flight with a 205.

DIVOTS: Happy 85th birthday to Frankie Kam, who appropriately was born -- as he likes to say -- on Kam Day. His holiday hole-in-one tournament at the Pali Golf Course was an annual treat for many ... Christel Tomori is working out of the Navy-Marine pro shop while taking a break until mid-July from the Players West Tour ... The Kauai Open July 2-4 will draw a top field that will include David Ishii and last year's champion Dean Wilson, who's also defending his title in the Sports Shinko Rainbow Open next week at Mililani.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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