Sunshine Ladies Tour rookie Carrie Park set the course at the ERPM Golf Club alight with a blistering eight-under-par 64 to grab a share of the lead with former European Tour champion Anton Haig in the IGT Tour’s ERPM Challenge on Monday.
Ladies have competed on the tour since 2011 and play off a mixture of the ladies and senior tees, and on Monday Park showed why she is ranked fifth on the local circuit.
Both players were flawless as they gathered an eagle a piece and half-a-dozen birdies each to open up a two shot lead on John McClean from Northern Ireland.
Amateur Michael Schutz and Dean O’Riley produced a pair of 67s to finish three off the pace, while NJ Arnoldi and Davin Marais tied a further shot adrift.
“Oh my goodness,” gushed Park. “I knew I shot my lowest round ever, but I never expected to be the joint leader. And to share the top spot with Anton Haig is incredible. He was such a talented player and since he started playing again, we’ve all been waiting for him to break through. He is hitting it so well that he is bound to win soon, so to share the lead with Anton is a rare treat for me.”
Park turned her attention to her pro debut on the Sunshine Ladies Tour just as soon as she achieved the rare Sanlam SA Women’s Amateur ‘double’ in July last year,
With four months to prepare for the SA Women’s Open, the country’s former number one ranked amateur worked tirelessly with her long-time coach Graeme Francis as they tweaked and perfected her game. The GFG Academy player tested every aspect of her arsenal on the IGT Tour last year and in November, Park cashed in with a third place finish at San Lameer.
The South Korean rookie reeled in two more top five finishes and only missed the top 10 once in seven starts. She qualified in the top 10 that made the field for the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies Final in March, where she took eighth overall.
Despite her petite size, Park is very straight off the tee and has a lethal short game. However, playing alongside eventual champion Bertine Strauss at Millpark Private Retreat revealed a weakness in her game.
‘Bertine hits it a land mile and that gives her options with wedges into the greens,’ Park said. ‘Wedges mean more control and although I matched her shot for shot, she had a lot of distance on me. I realised that I needed to gain more distance to really compete. Graeme and I have been working on my left hip rotation for a long, long time, but the penny only dropped during a lesson last week. Suddenly I gained a huge amount of distance off the tee and a club on my irons and wedges.
‘Practice is one thing, but I didn’t know if the change would hold up under tournament pressure.’
But Park produced the kind of round Francis had predicted six years ago.
‘The course is set up with a mix of senior and ladies tees, and although the par fours were not too bad, the par threes were playing really long,’ Park said.
‘The par fives were long, too, but not long enough to discourage me from going for it. I missed birdie chances at the first three holes, but I just told myself to stay patient. After my tee shot at four, I had 220 metres into the green and I went for it. A week ago I wouldn’t have been able to reach that par five in two, but I hit a five-wood to 20 feet and made the putt. That eagle really perked me up.’
Park reeled in two more birdies before the turn and collected another four on the homeward loop.
‘I’m really excited to see what I can do in the second round,’ she said. ‘Long term, the focus is to lower my stroke average so I shoot sub-par rounds consistently. I’ll just keep focussing on the processes, but if the opportunities present itself, I’ll go for it.’
And does Haig mind sharing centre stage with Miss Park?
‘I’ve played with Carrie on the IGT Tour before and believe me, she is a helluva little golfer,’ said the lanky Haig. ‘I was really impressed with her. She is only 19, but for someone so young, she is remarkable composed and has a great temperament on the course. She is a real fighter and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her name up there again on Tuesday.’
Park’s fellow Sunshine Ladies Tour campaigner Lejan Lewthwaite tied for 36th on three over 75.
By Lali Stander