Practice makes ‘par-fect’

Seul Ki Park poses during practice at the Urbana Country Club on Tuesday. Park recently won the Indiana Invitational for her first individual title. Beck Diefenbach

Seul Ki Park poses during practice at the Urbana Country Club on Tuesday. Park recently won the Indiana Invitational for her first individual title. Beck Diefenbach

By Meghan Montemurro

The stage was set for Seul Ki Park in the Crooked Stick Golf Club at the Indiana Invitational. With a two-shot lead heading into the final round, the pressure was on. Park was calm, hitting clutch shots, finishing even-par for the second round in a row. She went on to win by three stokes and captured her first individual title.

“Winning a college tournament is huge because in every single tournament, there are over 100 players, and to finish number one is pretty amazing,” Park said. “It’s a great feeling, and it teaches you that you aren’t any different from them and that you are a great player.”

It was no easy task to reach the top. Hours of practice, dedication and hard work paid off for Park. Her dedication to golf began in her sophomore year of high school. Park was inspired and wanted to become the top player. Head coach Renee Slone said she feels Park’s dedication and work ethic have continued and carried over to her play at Illinois and led to her individual title.

“She is a practicer, she will practice and practice and practice until I have to tell her to stop,” Slone said. “She enjoys practicing and wants to practice.”

Park’s dedication and work ethic are linked to her roots. She was born in South Korea’s capital, Seoul. For the first five years of her life, Park grew up in South Korea with her mom and dad, Jieun and Yong Kyu. Her parents decided to move to the United States and settled in Chicago while most of their immediate family remained behind in South Korea.

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Opportunities awaited Park, both academically and athletically. Her family moved to Winnetka, Ill., so Park and her brother Kevin, now 12, could receive a good education. Park attended high school at New Trier, which is historically known for its academic and athletic excellence.

Athletics have been in Park’s blood since an early age. Swimming was her sport of choice from age seven until her freshman year of high school. Park said she enjoyed swimming because while it is a team sport, the main focus is on the individual. The decision to quit swimming came after talking to her mom and swim coach.

“I wanted to do a sport that I could do later on in life and get a scholarship for school and (my swimming coach) said, ‘It’s going to be very difficult to do that as a swimmer,'” Park said.

Looking to add activities and extracurriculars to her high school resume, Park said she decided to take on golf just for fun after going to the golf course and watching her dad play.

Park started on the junior varsity team and played in team tournaments. Though she was not very good at first, something changed during her sophomore year.

“I decided I wanted to be recognized; I wanted to be a top player in Illinois,” Park said. “That’s when I started getting really motivated and that’s when my dad helped me with my swing and getting better, and then everything started coming together.”

Park also saw golf as a way to spend more time with her father, Yong Kyu, a former Korean International wrestler and an avid golfer. Park credits her dad as the person who influenced her career the most by teaching her everything about golf.

“He helped me a lot and I just worked really hard on my swing, my short game, and a lot with my mechanics,” Park said.

Park was drawn to golf because of the individualism of the sport and the improvements a player can always make. She said growing up a swimmer instilled the individual mind set.

“I enjoy putting in my own effort and knowing that if there is something wrong, that I need to work on something,” Park said. “You can never perfect the game, it’s something you keep working on and put in a lot of effort.”

Her love of golf runs deeper than just enjoyment of the game. The mental aspect of golf teaches her about herself while “learning something new every time out on the golf course.”

Park began considering golf scholarships during her senior year when she recognized how much she had grown as a golfer.

To improve her swing and mechanics, Park worked with swing instructor Jamie Fischer. A former assistant at Northwestern University, Fischer showed Park’s tape to the coaching staff. Park was set on playing golf at Northwestern, until the coaching staff decided to sign another golfer instead. Park holds no grudges.

“I am really glad I’m here now because it just balances it all out with academics and sports,” Park said. “I still think I’m really lucky to be here.”

Fischer notified former Illini head coach Paula Smith about her student. Park said Smith came to numerous tournaments and was told that she had potential. Illinois offered Park the right combination of athletics and academics.

The balance between school and sports takes discipline and determination and Park is suited for the challenge.

With class from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. and practice from 2:30 p.m. to as late at 7 p.m., free time for Park is minimal.

“You have to have commitment for the game because if you don’t, you lose yourself,” Park said. “You have to have a reason for why you are doing this.”

Park’s reason is the opportunity to reach the next level and play professionally and give it a chance so she has no regrets. Slone, who took over as head coach this season, feels Park has the tools to play golf in a professional setting.

“It’s going to take a lot of continued hard work, and she has the length to hit the ball a long way,” Slone said. “If she can improve her short game and course management skills, she has the opportunity to do it.”

As a community health-nursing major, Park has begun to look at the future, which will include a balancing act between nursing school and her attempt to go pro in golf. Park said she plans on going to nursing school close to home in Chicago, with her ultimate goal being accepted to the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This summer Park has an internship with Carle Foundation Hospital with the head director of nursing. Golf won’t be far from her mind, though, as she plans to play in local tournaments as well as USGA tournament qualifiers.