As the only player from Long Island competing in the 68th U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Sebonack—and with Sebonack caddy and Hampton Bays native Joe Carson on her bag—18-year-old Annie Park became the local favorite at the tournament last week. Unfortunately, that status did not propel her to the final two days of the tournament, as she missed the cut after shooting a 10-over par 154 in the first two rounds (79 on Thursday, 75 on Friday) on the par 72 course. The cut was made at 6-over par.
“It was a great experience,” the former Levittown resident and graduate of MacArthur High School said after her round on Friday. “It was just unbelievable with the fans coming out to support, not only our group, but just coming out for the other players. It seems so nice, not only to see it so popular in the men’s tour, but also in the LPGA Tour.”
Park, a freshman at the University of Southern California, teed off early in the morning on the 10th hole in the first round of action on Thursday, along with Christine Song of the United States and Izzy Beiseigel of Canada. Park put herself in good position a number of times—she had chances to birdie a hole four times through the first nine—but her putting wasn’t quite where it needed to be on Sebonack’s notoriously tricky greens.
“Compared to yesterday, I definitely played better,” she said of her round on Friday. “It was still frustrating that I just couldn’t make any putts, especially, like, short putts for birdie. Mentally it was frustrating. I knew that I could make more putts. It just didn’t drop.”
Park mentioned that the course set up much differently from when she played there last year in the French-American Challenge.
“The yardages were obviously shorter,” she explained. “So it was like playing a different golf course with the tees back. I’m still not used to, like, [hole] number 1 being number 2, number 9 being number 1. That was kind of confusing.
“But, overall, it was just a great setup,” Park added. “And the greens were rolling pretty good, too.”
It was the second year in a row that the 18-year-old amateur Park has made it to the U.S. Women’s Open. She is just six months removed from graduating from MacArthur High School and Park says she’s done a lot in the time span.
“I’ve accomplished more than I expected and I’m just honored to be a part of it,” she said.
Park starts summer classes for college in two days. She will compete in two amateur tournaments this summer—the North and South Championships in North Carolina and the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship in South Carolina—and then head back to the University of Southern California to start her sophomore year in the fall.
Park is already looking ahead on how to improve her game and make a third consecutive Open next year.
“I feel like I have a lot more to experience in bigger tournaments,” she said. “Obviously this is one of the biggest, but just playing against the pros, the best, and just handling pressure, learning ways of how to handle those pressures, even though I know a few. But there is still a lot more to learn.”
It was a eye-opening experience for Carson as well, who was caddying in a major tournament for the first time. Carson caddied for Park in sectional qualifying and said he developed a great relationship with her and thoroughly enjoyed caddying in the Open. It was a big step for Carson, 29, who was a complete newcomer to the game of golf when he applied for a job at Sebonack in 2006. Despite going from knowing next to nothing about the game to caddying in a major tournament in less than seven years, Carson said he never felt intimidated or overwhelmed.
“For me, it’s the same golf course,” he said. “The course played tough, and what they did to it for the Open made it even more difficult.
“None of it was overwhelming,” he continued. “I thought it was a lot of fun, and I think Annie played really well. For a girl who is 18 and graduated high school early and has done as well as she has, I think that itself was a great achievement. When she played in the qualifier, everything went in; she never had a bogey or three-putt. It just wasn’t her day. Sometimes you just don’t get the breaks, and that’s golf.”
Carson added that the extra attention from fans and the media because of her status as a local favorite had both positive and negative consequences.
“On the one hand, it’s a good thing because a lot of people are interested in her,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s stressful.”
Carson said that while he enjoyed his experience caddying in the Open and had a great relationship with Park, he’s not about to trade in his Sebonack gig for a life on the LPGA Tour any time soon.
“I had a really good time, but it’s a totally different lifestyle,” he said of being a Tour caddy. “Those guys grind; they’re always on the road. And nothing is certain; plenty of guys get canned. But it was exciting. Being in the Open was cool, and once you get into it, you want to win.”
Park’s mother Anne and sister Bo were in attendance and following her throughout the tournament along with a number of Levittown supporters. A handful of spectators, including Park’s mother and sister, donned University of Southern California clothing. Park led the Trojans to the NCAA Division I Championship this year.
At the end of the day, Park said she was gracious for the following she has brought to Sebonack but admitted she did feel some pressure.
“I did feel the pressure but I tried to block it out,” she said. “I was very thankful for them to come out and watch and support our group and it was just great.”