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Inbee Park relishes qualifying for LPGA Hall of Fame

By
Derek Harper, The Sports Xchange
Inbee Park of Korea holds the championship trophy on the 18th green after the final round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Westchester Country Club in Harrison, NY on June 14, 2015. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Inbee Park of Korea holds the championship trophy on the 18th green after the final round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Westchester Country Club in Harrison, NY on June 14, 2015. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

SAMMAMISH, Wash. -- Perhaps the allure of the Hall of Fame and adrenaline of being a three-time defending champion has some healing powers.

Battling through a lingering left thumb injury, Inbee Park shot a 1-over 72 in the first round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club on Thursday, reaching 2-under at one point before bogeys on three of her final seven holes dropped her five shots off the pace of leader Brooke Henderson.

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Regardless, it has to be considered a victory for the second-ranked women's player in the world.

"The experience was great, I can tell you that," Park said. "The last month for me was quite a tough time, I had no guarantee I was going to play all the way today. I feel truly blessed.

"My thumb, and my body and my mind held up really well out there. Obviously the score is not the greatest, but I definitely am satisfied with the score today."

The only thing Park knew when she woke up Thursday was that she would qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame as long as she made it through 18 holes, satisfying the 10-year membership requirement for the 27-year-old and making Park the youngest player in tour history to reach that threshold and the first South Korean to do so since Se Ri Pak in 2007.

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What she couldn't predict was spending much of her first round on the first page of the leaderboard and being a factor entering the second round.

There was speculation that Park might not even tee it up Friday after arriving in the Pacific Northwest having posted opening-round scores of 74 and 84 in her last two tournaments. She acknowledged before the tournament that she has good days and bad days with her thumb, and never knows what to expect.

"The road to the Hall of Fame is not easy, and was not easy for me. I definitely felt some nerves last night," she said. "On the first tee today I felt pretty nervous -- nervous and special at the same time. It's the utmost gift that I've had as a professional golfer."

And Thursday thankfully turned into more than a coronation walk for the legend in women's golf.

Park took advantage of both par-5s on the front nine, reaching 2-under with a pair of birdies and was still just two shots off the pace after her 11th hole of the day before stumbling down the stretch. Finding three bunkers and falling back to even par, Park put her tee shot on the par-3 17th hole within five feet of the pin but was unable to capitalize. She then was unable to get up-and-down from off the green on No. 18 to close at 1-over.

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As Park walked off the green, she was greeted with a bouquet of flowers that included 27 white roses -- one for each Hall of Fame point. Also waiting for her were Park's husband and five of her now-fellow Hall of Fame members: Laura Davies, Julie Inkster, Se Ri Pak, Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb.

"I'm just happy to be able to share the moment with so many people," Park said. "Being able to see them after the round, waiting for me after the round ... it was just great."

"I think I get to appreciate it much more because everything that has happened in the last month. People really cared about me, and I got to appreciate their love and support."

Park will return to Sahalee on Friday, and the seven-time major winner will continue her improbable pursuit of a fourth consecutive title in this event.

"It usually gets a little more tired later in the day," Park said of her injured thumb. "I knew I kind of had to grind out there today. My thumb is much better than what I have expected, and I will be there tomorrow."

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