Park's career still in rough

Winner of 2004 Nabisco tries to use 2006 version to re-establish form


Long before Michelle Wie became the most talked-about player in women's golf, another teen phenom in Hawaii with Korean roots was considered a future LPGA megastar.

Grace Park won 55 titles during her career as a junior and amateur -- including the 1998 U.S. Women's Amateur over Jenny Chuasiriporn of Timonium -- before turning pro after two years at Arizona State.

Though she won a tournament in each of her first four years on the LPGA Tour, Park seemed to be in a perpetual state of antipathy. In retrospect, she simply missed her college life.

"I wasn't happy on the golf course, but because I had turned pro, I was unhappy when I wasn't on the golf course," Park, now 27, recalled recently. "I think it was just one of those weird transition periods that hopefully nobody has to go through because it's extremely frustrating."

Park eventually began to live up to the Wie-like hype that had started when Park moved from Seoul to Honolulu at age 12 and started dominating junior and amateur golf. After she won her first major two years ago -- the Kraft Nabisco Championship -- many considered her to be the next rival for Annika Sorenstam.

"I was definitely closer," said Park, who would finish second to Sorenstam on the money list that year and would win the Vare Trophy for the LPGA's lowest scoring average. "I was still far away, but I knew what I had to work on, and I worked so hard on that, only to get injured and throw it all out. It was kind of a frustrating waste of time."

A back injury early last year limited Park to 18 events and led to disappointing results -- no better than a tie for fifth in the Nabisco among her four top 10 finishes and a fall to 34th on the money list. The injury has healed, but going into the 2006 Nabisco beginning today in Rancho Mirage, Calif., her game has yet to return.

After starting the season with a 66 in the opening round of the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in Hawaii, Park has not shot another round in the 60s. After finishing tied for 13th in that season-opening event, she has missed the cut in her past three tournaments, most recently the Safeway International outside Phoenix.

"The swing is better, but the short game is not there," said Sorenstam, who played two rounds with Park in Arizona.

Christina Kim, who has played in two tournaments this year with Park, said Park "has every shot in the bag," but thinks that luck also comes into play.

"Everyone makes mistakes, but she's gotten a lot of bad breaks the last couple of weeks," said Kim "There are times when you get the good bounces and times when you get the bad ones, and she was not getting any love from the golf gods. "

Last year's performance has apparently stayed in Park's head.

"It was a setback, but I'm not taking it too seriously," she said on the practice range after the opening round of the Safeway International. "There's still that negative thought in my head that I can't fully get rid of, of all the bad shots I hit last year, but I'm trying to. I'm trying very hard to throw out last year and start from where I left off in 2004."

In part because of the back injury, and mostly because of the poor results, Park left respected golf teacher Peter Kostis after four years and sought out Butch Harmon, the swing guru most famous for overhauling Tiger Woods' game the first time, after Woods won the Masters in 1997.

"I called him and told him, `I know you're the best teacher there is, and I want you to take me to the next level," said Park, who has been working with Harmon since January. "After you struggle and not coming back from it, I just wanted a change. Nothing more than that."

Park said Harmon has tightened her swing, but not made any significant alterations.

"Now, it looks great on the computer, it looks great on camera, it looks great on the driving range, but because it's something new for me, I'm not able to convert that to playing on the golf course," Park said. "I think with any teacher and with any swing change, it takes a few months. I'm sure that once I get comfortable with it, it's going to be that much better."

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