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Up-and-comer wins KLPGA Championship, as women's pro golf takes first step in return to play


South Korea's Hyun Kyung Park celebrates with her father/caddie after closing out a one-stroke win at the 42nd KLPGA Championship.

Chung Sung-Jun

There was an appreciated sense of normalcy in the voice of Hyun Kyung Park, even in these less than normal times. With three straight birdies early on the back nine, the 22-year-old South Korean erased a three-stroke deficit before closing out a one-stroke victory on Sunday at the Korean LPGA Championship.

“I was so disappointed not to have been part of that winner’s group last year,” said Park after her closing 67 left her with a 17-under-par 271 total at Lakewood Country Club in Yangju. “I am so happy that I got the first win out of the way in the first tournament of the year.”

At any other time, the story in its entirety would have been about the up-and-comer, No. 92 in the Rolex Women’s Ranking, finally breaking through. But with the backdrop of the KLPGA Championship being the first significant women’s professional tournament conducted since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with no fans in attendance, Park’s maiden victory on the KLPGA circuit, in her second season on tour, will always be remembered for more than that.

That’s guaranteed by the victory celebration on the 18th hole, where Park’s father, who also worked as her caddie for the week, hugged his daughter while wearing a protective mask that all caddies wore throughout the tournament.

Players were required to wear masks before and after rounds (during the round was optional), dined at separate tables in the clubhouse and replaced post-round hugs and handshakes with elbow bumps during the four-round event. Various health protocols were in place, including thermal screenings and UV sanitizing stations. Players were not administered tests unless symptoms required doing so.

As Park and her father walked off the 18th green, other players, keeping their distance, threw flower petals to honor the new champions.

Three of the top-10 golfers on the Rolex Women’s Ranking competed in the event. Sung Hyun Park, the highest ranked among them (No. 3), missed the cut in her first tournament start since withdrawing from the last round of the LPGA’s CEM Globe Tour Championship last November.

“I played in this tournament to see where my game was, in terms of my swing and short game,” Park told the Yonhap News Agency. “I was able to test myself in a competitive setting. I identified my issues and I know in which direction I should move going forward.”

No. 6 Sei Young Kim, finished T-46, 15 strokes back, while reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Jeongeun Lee6 finished T-15, eight shots behind the winner.


Chung Sung-Jun

The next scheduled KLPGA event is not for two weeks, although there’s potential for that to change. On Friday, the Korea Golf Association announced the cancelation of the men’s Korea Open, set to be held in June, out of concerns with the coronavirus. Past winners of the event include Vijay Singh, Y.E. Yang and Rickie Fowler. It will be the first time in the event’s 62-year history that it won’t be played.

With South Korea farther along in the fight against the coronavirus, the LPGA Tour is still two months away from resuming its schedule. Last week, tour officials announced that the restart date had been pushed back one week, to July 23 at the Marathon LPGA Classic in Ohio.