Park Sung-hyun believes her world number one ranking has left her in a more relaxed state of mind as she prepares to tackle the first women’s major championship of 2019 at the ANA Inspiration in California on Thursday (Apr 4).
|World number one Park Sung-hyun feels no pressure ahead of this week’s ANA Inspiration in California. (AFP/Steve DYKES)|
The 25-year-old South Korean heads into this week’s tournament at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage chasing the third major of her career following wins at the 2017 US Open and 2018 PGA Championship.
A victory at last month’s HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore and a share of second place at last weekend’s Kia Classic indicate Park is perfectly poised to add to her major collection at this week’s showpiece in the California desert.
However Park insists she is not feeling the pressure heading into a tournament where she has posted two top-10 finishes in her three previous appearances.
Park attributed her mindset in part to her position on top of the rankings, which she has led for the past five weeks.
“Before I made number one in the world I did feel a lot of pressure,” Park said.
“At the beginning of this year I played a lot more freely … so just being able to maintain that level of freedom, just feeling more comfortable out there,” she added.
Park led at the halfway stage of last year’s ANA Inspiration, which was eventually won by Sweden’s Pernilla Lindberg.
The experience left Park determined to go one better this year.
“The ANA Inspiration is a major that I’ve targeted as a tournament that I would like to win,” said Park.
SINK OR SWIM?
A victory on Sunday afternoon would leave Park ready to take the now traditional leap into Poppie’s Pond, the relatively shallow ater hazard surrounding the 18th green.
“I don’t know how to swim, and so if the level is deep then I might drown,” Park joked.
The fiercely competitive nature of the women’s professional circuit makes it likely that Park will have to deliver a flawless display this weekend to prevail.
Last year, the five majors in women’s golf all had different winners.
Those winners included world number two Ariya Jutanugarn from Thailand, who claimed her second career major at the US Open.
Ariya has two top-10 finishes at Mission Hills, where she infamously blew a two-shot lead with three holes to play in the final round of the 2016 tournament before losing to Lydia Ko.
The 2018 ANA Inspiration champion, Lindberg, is aiming to become the first woman since fellow Swede Annika Sorenstam to successfully defend the title.
STRUGGLE WITH SUCCESS
Lindberg claimed the first victory of her professional career at last year’s tournament, but has not had a win since.
The 32-year-old admitted she had struggled to cope with her new-found fame following her maiden major win, but has gradually rediscovered the peace of mind that helped her win a nervy playoff 12 months ago.
“I had a lot more requests and opportunities coming my way after my win,” Lindberg said.
“I embraced it all, took advantage of all the great opportunities, but it probably make me just higher stress level inside. It’s hard to play your best golf when you feel that way.
“I’ve done some really good work with my team the last few weeks, and I’m very much back to feeling very similar to how I felt coming into this week last year.”
Japan’s Nasa Hataoka, meanwhile, starts the tournament brimming with confidence after her win in last weekend’s Kia Classic in Carlsbad.
The 20-year-old enjoyed a breakthrough season last year, winning two titles on the LPGA tour and suffering a defeat in a playoff to Park Sung-hyun in the women’s PGA Championship.
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