Although she’s not an LPGA Tour pro just yet, Annie Park sure plays like one.
Park, an 18-year-old from Levittown, will be competing in her second consecutive U.S. Women’s Open come the final week of June, having qualified for this year’s Open by tying for first place with 15-year-old Canadian Brooke Henderson at the Sectional Qualifier last month at Edgewood Country Club in New Jersey.
Winning tournaments is all Park has done since bursting on the scene after claiming the Nassau County High School Boys Golf Championship in 2012. She graduated early from MacArthur High School and went on to attend the University of Southern California, an NCAA Division I school—and her success did not end there.
Just a week before qualifying for this year’s Open, Park led USC to a record-setting 21-stroke victory at the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship in Athens, Georgia. She also won the individual portion of the tournament by six strokes.
So was Park ecstatic when talking about her recent success? Not quite. Park exhibits a cool and calm demeanor even when she’s not on the golf course.
“I guess people have been seeing me differently since I won the boys tournament last year,” she said. “But, still, I don’t think most people are still aware of who I am just yet.”
Park will try to change all that when she walks on Sebonack later this month, which just so happens to be her favorite course. She first played Sebonack last fall on the Metropolitan Golf Association team that played against a team from France in the French-American Challenge.
“It’s just a challenging course in general, and that’s what I like most about it,” she said. “The wind is what makes it one of the hardest courses to play on. It could get really windy, and then it could just die down. It’s also a really beautiful golf course with some great views.”
Park will be joined by local Sebonack caddy Joe Carson, a 29-year-old who grew up in Hampton Bays but now resides in Southampton. Carson started working at Sebonack in 2006 and admittedly knew nothing about golf at the time.
“I had no golf background, had zero experience whatsoever when I first started working here,” he said. “I still don’t play a whole lot. When people ask what I shoot, I tell them deer and fish.”
Carson will be valuable to Park not so much for general golf knowledge as for his familiarity with Sebonack. Sebonack caddymaster Jason Bungee believes that Carson is the perfect caddy for Park, pointing out that as a collegiate player, she isn’t accustomed to having a caddy in tournaments. Carson can give Park the crucial insight she needs, particularly on Sebonack’s greens, but won’t be tempted to overload her with information.
“She’s used to doing it on her own,” Bungee said. “Another caddy might try to overanalyze everything. She just needs a local guy who knows the course and can help her out whenever she has questions.”
Bungee said he did not hesitate to hire Carson when the Hampton Bays graduate—who also has a master’s degree in fine arts from Stony Brook-Southampton—came looking for a job in May 2006.
“If you’re smart and you’re dedicated, you can pick it up, and he had both of those qualities,” Bungee said. “He’s also an outdoorsy guy and he knows the winds and grasses around here. He just worked hard, and he’s built himself into one of our most-liked caddies.”
Carson says that all of the caddies at the course could provide an edge to most of the women playing in this year’s tournament. “I think it helps just to have local knowledge of the course,” he said. “There is a great group of guys here at Sebonack, and I think using any one of us will give the girls an edge. A good caddy is a good caddy, period. Any of these girls who come out here and use our services has a good shot at learning a few things.”
Park and Carson first connected at the French-American Challenge, and the two forged a working relationship from that point forward. Carson caddied for Park at the Sectional Qualifier, and he thinks Park has a great chance at doing very well in the Open.
“When you meet someone, you kind of get a feel for the type of person they are, and Annie, she is just so focused,” he said. “She’s got a great gift, and you can tell she’s practiced a lot.
“I think she’s got a really good shot, I really do,” he added. “When I went with her to qualifying, I thought she had a good shot at winning there. She’s really capable of doing great things.”
Being that Park is considered one of the locals in this tournament, she will have a number of fans rooting her on, particularly friends and family from up-island. She thinks she’ll have a few nerves mixed in with some excitement when play starts, but she is confident she has what it takes to do well.
“I think my distance, my long game, is one of my strongest suits,” she said. “I hit it pretty far. But if my short game keeps up the way it has been, I think I’ll play pretty well.”