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Tokyo-bound LPGA stars appreciate opportunity to compete at Olympics

All News 09:27 June 23, 2021

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, June 23 (Yonhap) -- Park In-bee has accomplished a lot in her LPGA Hall of Fame career, but the gold medal from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics occupies a special place in her heart.

Now on the verge of qualifying for her second straight Olympics, Park can't wait to have that experience again.

"I've achieved a lot in golf, won a lot of majors, won a lot of tournaments, but winning the gold medal was something really different," Park said at Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Georgia, on Tuesday (local time), as she's preparing for the third LPGA major of the season, KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

In this Getty Images photo, Park In-bee of South Korea watches her tee shot from the fourth hole during the final round of the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give at Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, Michigan, on June 20, 2021. (Yonhap)

In this Getty Images photo, Park In-bee of South Korea watches her tee shot from the fourth hole during the final round of the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give at Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, Michigan, on June 20, 2021. (Yonhap)

"I wish a lot of the players think the same and treat Olympics the same," Park continued. "I think it's definitely something that you should experience."

The Olympic field of 60 will be finalized based on the world rankings after the conclusion of the KPMG tournament. Those inside the top 15 will automatically qualify, with a maximum of four players per country. Entering the tournament ranked No. 2 behind countrywoman Ko Jin-young, Park has virtually locked down an Olympic spot.

World No. 4 Kim Sei-young, who also competed at the 2016 Olympics, is another sure bet to make the team. Kim, too, talked about how special it was to represent the country at the Summer Games.

"It was an amazing memory because that was the first time they played golf in the Olympics (since 1900)," Kim said. "I had a good experience because I could see a lot of different sports. I stayed with In-bee and other Olympians. (The experience) gave me a lot of confidence."

Kim said her biggest goal this year was to qualify for Tokyo, and now that one is cleared, her next objective is to improve on her 25th-place finish from 2016.

"It's going to be a very big challenge," Kim added.

In this Getty Images file photo from June 11, 2021, Kim Sei-young of South Korea hits a shot on the eighth hole during the second round of the LPGA Mediheal Championship at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, California. (Yonhap)

In this Getty Images file photo from June 11, 2021, Kim Sei-young of South Korea hits a shot on the eighth hole during the second round of the LPGA Mediheal Championship at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, California. (Yonhap)

Ko, who has been No. 1 since July 2019, will be making her Olympic debut in July. Given the depth of talent in South Korean women's golf, Ko said she doesn't take her place on the Olympic team for granted.

"It's really tough to get to the Tokyo Olympics, especially the Korean team, because everyone knows Korean players playing every week are really good," Ko said. "It was hard to get in there but I made it. I'm so happy. I really want to play at the Tokyo Olympics right now."

Kim Hyo-joo, currently No. 8, should be able to round out the South Korean Olympic team, with her closest pursuer being No. 16 Ryu So-yeon. Unless Kim drops out of the top 10 after the KPMG event, this will make South Korea the only country in Tokyo with four top-10 players in the world. The United States has three such players as of this week.

If the Olympics hadn't been postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Park wouldn't have qualified. She ranked 11th at the end of June 2020, only the fifth-best South Korean behind Ko (No. 1), Park Sung-hyun (No. 3), Kim Sei-young (No. 6) and Kim Hyo-joo (No. 9).

In this EPA photo, Ko Jin-young of South Korea hits her tee shot from the seventh hole during the final round of the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give at Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, Michigan, on June 20, 2021. (Yonhap)

In this EPA photo, Ko Jin-young of South Korea hits her tee shot from the seventh hole during the final round of the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give at Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, Michigan, on June 20, 2021. (Yonhap)

Park has since played her way into the Olympics. In nine events in the second half of 2020, Park posted six top-10 finishes. So far in 2021, Park has a win and six other top-10 showings in nine appearances.

"I think I've played quite good, consistent golf in the last couple of years, and to be able to achieve what I wanted to achieve, being on the Olympic team for the second time of my career, it has been a very big goal of my career," she said. "Finally being able to achieve that is a big bonus for me because it just means I've played very consistently for the last six, eight years. Being on the Korean Olympic golf team, literally you have to be top 10 in the world. That just means how consistent you have to be for the long time of your career, so I'm proud of myself."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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