Grace Park Retires From the LPGA
I didn’t really get it when Grace Park quietly announced her retirement last year from the LPGA Tour and professional touring golf in general. Maybe there was a lot going on and I didn’t notice, or maybe I heard about it and didn’t want to believe her.
Park was probably the main player in the first wave of South Korean greats, a pioneer of the game for her country, and for women in her country. The 5’6” big swing star, born in Seoul, ’79, and the sister of two siblings, began playing at the age of eight She was a Tour team member in 2000 and retired in 2012 – twelve years. It doesn’t seem like much time spent in one’s professions, but all professions are different – ask a ballerina or child star – they might think twelve years is a whole lot of profession.
At 12, Park moved to Hawaii, then on to Arizona State University, before graduating from Ewhan Woman’s University. At one point, she was considered the finest high school female athlete in the United States – and that’s a lot of high schools…in a lot of states. Recipient of the ’96 Dial Award, she carried on a great amateur career, was the Rolex Junior Player of the Year for ’94 and ’96, won the U.S. Women’s Amateur and Women’s Western Amateur before finishing as top amateur, in the top ten of the U.S. Women’s Open. On the Futures Tour, she won five of the ten tournaments she entered, earning her an automatic tour exemption by finishing atop the money list.
In Park’s time on tour, she won six events, including one major, the Kraft Nabisco, was named Rookie of the Year, Player of the year, and on…and on, and on. All told, she won around five and a half million during her competitive years.
All that, however, is just a stat sheet, and as I think of the years watching Grace Park on tour, it all comes across as rather dry. She was so much warmer than her stat sheet, so much more elegant, and played golf more beautifully than just the numbers. She brought people into the game, gave them moral support while they broke in, paid special attention to juniors, all without making very much noise, it seems.
As I say, I really didn’t get it that Grace Park retired last year, and it’s good to see her pick up a club once more to play this week’s tournament, the LPGA-KEB-Hana Bank, in her home country – and, of course, the imagination shivers – wouldn’t that be an absolute gas if she walked away with a win while really walking away? I’m sure she’d enjoy that.
What makes a star want to retire in her early to mid-thirties? In a touring profession such as this one, maybe that’s not so difficult to understand. The pressures we see don’t compare to the ones we don’t see. Touring is exhausting, travel, practice and keeping your life together in a different room each week is exhausting – winning and losing is exhausting – the public and the press, exhausting. Maybe that’s not the place where someone that quiet and elegant wants to be for very long.
Apparently, that is the case. Park is quoted as saying that she “ran ceaselessly for twenty years,” and had “no holidays or vacations.” She was married last November, and suggests that she’s really taken to that life, including plans for a family. Her decision to retire was, by her own account, a rather sudden one, and she looks forward to playing this last tournament for different reasons than winning and advancing – more as a tribute to those who held her up through the years.
She seems to have taken on the right name – Grace. For us, it’s too bad to see her go, but we’re grateful that she was here, and for what she’s done for the game, just by being a part of it. Grace Park is now looking forward to her first “good rest” in quite a while, and we hope it’s a good one.