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(LEAD) Park In-bee inducted into LPGA Hall of Fame

All News 14:35 June 10, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS comments, details, photos; UPDATES with first round results)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, June 10 (Yonhap) -- With 17 titles that include seven major championships, world No. 2 Park In-bee has joined the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Park was inducted into the hall after completing her first round at the season's second major, the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Washington, on Thursday (local time).

Park is the second South Korean in the hall after Pak Se-ri, whose trailblazing ways in the late 1990s inspired the likes of Park to pick up golf. At 27, Park is also the youngest to enter the Hall of Fame.

An LPGA golfer must earn 27 points to qualify for the Hall of Fame, based on victories and statistical titles or season-ending awards. Park reached 27 points in last season's finale, the CME Group Tour Championship in November, by clinching the Vare Trophy for the scoring title.

The last hurdle was to complete the equivalent of 10 seasons, and Park did so by getting the first round under her belt at the KPMGA Women's PGA Championship.

As the three-time defending champion of the event, Park is trying become the first woman to win a major in four straight years.

She told LPGA.com that reaching the Hall of Fame was a dream come true.

"It feels very special because I just started playing golf and watching a lot of players on TV thinking that I want to be there," she said. "And once I got on the LPGA Tour, the Hall of Fame became an ultimate goal, just naturally. Nobody told me the Hall of Fame should be your last goal or anything like that. But it just came so naturally that I wanted to be up with the most greatest players in the history."

After finishing her first round at one-over 72, tied for 20th, Park was congratulated by other legends of the game, including Pak, Annika Sorenstam, Laura Davies, Karrie Webb and Juli Inkster.

"I was really, really surprised to see them and it just felt so much more special seeing a lot of those players -- legendary players that I have been looking up to when I was growing up," Park added. "I didn't really think about the Hall of Fame until maybe a couple of years ago because I thought that I had a long ways to go. It definitely came quicker than I thought. And it obviously wasn't easy to get there. There were some very hard moments and very successful moments altogether and (they) made me who I am right now."

Park joined the LPGA Tour in 2007 and won her first major, the U.S. Women's Open, in June 2008, making her the youngest champion of the oldest women's major at 19.

After that breakout victory, Park went through an extended dry spell. She didn't win again until July 2012, and then the floodgates opened.

Park ended up winning twice in 2012 en route to capturing her first money title, and reeled off six victories in 2013, three in 2014 and five more in 2015. In 2013, Park became only the second LPGA golfer to win the first three majors of a season. She went on to win her second straight money title and her first Player of the Year honors.

Park has held the No. 1 world ranking for a total of 92 weeks, the third most by a player since the women's rankings were introduced in 2006.

Park completed her career grand slam by winning the Ricoh Women's British Open last August, giving herself a win in four different majors.

Since the tour added a fifth major in 2013, some skeptics have disputed the legitimacy of Park's slam because she hasn't won that new major, the Evian Championship.

Still, the LPGA Tour recognizes Park's feat as a career slam. It says if Park wins the Evian Championship, the achievement will then be called a "super career grand slam." The player herself has repeatedly said she believes she has the career slam to her credit.

Qualifying for the Hall of Fame, on the other hand, has left zero room for debate or controversy.

The former world No. 1 struggled with back and finger injuries in 2015. Prior to this week's event, Park had withdrawn from three out of her nine tournaments this year, with no wins and just two top-10 finishes.

She hinted Wednesday she may pull out of this year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics, saying she'd rather give someone else a chance to play if she's not at full strength.

And asked about her Olympic status Thursday, Park said she will make her decision, one way or the other, in early July.

The world's top 15 players as of July 11 will be eligible for Rio. There is a limit of four players per country, and those that don't already have two or more players inside the top 15 can only field a maximum of two golfers.

Since there are already seven South Koreans inside the top 15, the country is virtually assured of having four players in the field in Brazil. Trailing Park in the rankings are Kim Sei-young (No. 5), Chun In-gee (No. 6) and Jang Ha-na (No. 8).

"It's difficult to decide right now whether I should compete at the Olympics, because things haven't always gone the way I wanted them," Park said. "I can't guarantee how I am going to feel tomorrow. Right now, I just have to do my best to battle this (injury) each and every day."

Park admitted that up until last week, she didn't think she was healthy enough to go to the Olympics and said taking part in the Summer Games would only be meaningful if she was in proper form.

"Obviously, I'd love to go to the Olympics," she added. "And who wouldn't want to have that precious experience? But the Olympics isn't just for myself; it's also for the country. I will have to make a careful decision."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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