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Inbee Park chips away at legendary Se Ri Pak’s LPGA mark

Inbee Park at 2021 Kia Classic
Inbee Park cruises to a 5-stroke victory Sunday at the Kia Classic, her 21st career title on the LPGA.

South Korean rolls to 5-stroke victory at Kia Classic in her season debut, notching career title No. 21 as she gains on national icon

In the annals of South Korean women’s golf, the legendary Se Ri Pak always will hold a special place of prominence. Yet, Inbee Park is carving out her own chapter in her nation’s sports records.

In her LPGA season debut, Park cruised to a five-stroke victory Sunday at the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, Calif. She shot 2-under 70 in the final round at Aviara Golf Club for a 14-under 274 total. Americans Amy Olson (68) and Lexi Thompson (69) shared second place at 9-under 279 (scores).

With her 21st LPGA victory, Park moves within four of Pak, the winningest South Korean and the architect of a 21st-century makeover of the women’s game, on the tour’s career list. Park is tied for 25th all-time with the late Marilynn Smith, one of the tour’s founders. When Pak won the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open, her victory launched a surge of golf participation in South Korea, resulting in today’s makeup of the women’s tour. Eight of the top 20 in the Rolex Rankings – including No. 1 Jin Young Ko and No. 2 Sei Young Kim – are from South Korea.

“She’s somebody that I always looked up to when I was growing up, and obviously she’s always big in my heart,” Park said about Pak. “Trying to follow her footstep is always a great thing. Really happy that I’m getting close.”

Park broke through at age 19 in 2008, her second season on the U.S. tour, with her first victory, at the U.S. Women’s Open. Then, she went winless for four years. She quickly established herself as a force in the women’s game, winning 16 times in the next four years. One-victory years in 2017 and 2018 preceded a winless 2019 before she won again in 2020, at the Women’s Australian Open.

She followed that 2020 title with six top-10s in her next eight starts before ending the year with a T-35 in the Tour Championship. Park’s triumph ends a three-victory streak for Americans to open the LPGA season, after sisters Jessica and Nelly Korda and Austin Ernst won.

Park, a seven-time major champion, enters next week’s ANA Inspiration, the first of the LPGA’s five biggest tournaments, with plenty of momentum to grab No. 8 in the California desert.

“I thought this week was just kind of a preparation for next week,” said Park, who won at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage in 2013, “but I exceeded so much more. I’m just really happy.”

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