She never led until her last shot of the week. In fact, Kum-Kang Park, the 20-year-old Epson Tour rookie from the Republic of Korea, didn’t even look at a scoreboard during any of her trips around Mystic Creek Golf Club until she walked up to the final green and surveyed the 20-footer she had for eagle. That’s when she knew.
“I looked at the scores and I looked at that putt and I knew that if I made it, I had a chance to win,” Park said of her final shot of the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout.
After Park made her fifth birdie of the day on 17, she pounded her drive down the middle of the fairway at the par-5 18th, leaving only 170 yards to the difficult hole location. All day, players who had gone for the final green in two had ended up in one of the many run-off areas around the treacherous green. From there, par was a good score. But Park’s length gave her an advantage. She hit a towering 7-iron from the fairway that stopped just below the hole, leaving her one of the few straight putts on the last green. She rolled the 20-footer into the middle of the hole for her third 3 in a row (one par, one birdie and one eagle) and a final-round 65, the lowest single-round score of the tournament. That turned out to be good enough for a two-shot victory over second-round leader Fatima Fernandez Cano; Yaeeun Hong, who led by two shots going into the back nine on Sunday; and Race for the Card leader Lilia Vu.
“I’m so happy,” Park said. “This is my first win (as a professional) and a big step in my ultimate goal of playing on the LPGA Tour.”
Fernandez Cano entered the final round with a two-shot lead over the 19-year-old Hong. And for most of the last day it looked as though the winner would come from the final group. Hong, a steady ball striker who had a runner-up finish in her first start on the Epson Tour in 2020 and who had four top-10 finishes in 2021 coming into El Dorado, jumped out to a lead with two quick birdies on the front nine. But she struggled on the back, losing her confidence after a three-putt bogey at 12.
A tearful and dejected Hong said, “I felt comfortable and positive on the front nine. But on the back nine, I missed a short birdie putt at 11 and I let a little anger set in. I was still leading but I felt like I could be making a better run. Then I three-putted 12 and I felt myself getting negative. I was so scared on that (No.12) green that I didn’t hit the kind of first putt I wanted. It was defensive instead of positive. After that, I felt like I just went somewhere else, like I wasn’t in the moment, wasn’t in my game as I had been all week. I had been patient all week. But I lost that patience in the end.”
Cano lost her ball-striking, which had been the key to her lead. She hit 34 of 36 greens on Friday and Saturday but missed as many greens on the front nine on Sunday as she had in the first two rounds combined.
“Today, I didn’t have my game as much as I did the last couple of days,” the Spaniard said. “I made a couple of bad swings that cost me. And I got unlucky a couple of times with some lies that weren’t great. You really have to manage your misses out here and I didn’t do that well today. But overall, it was a good week. My goal was to secure my card and improve my position for next year and I’ve taken one more step in achieving that goal. I’m pretty happy.”
Vu, who closed with a 68, her low round of the week, was far from happy with her finish. On the 15th hole, she called a penalty on herself after moving some pine straw in the rough and causing her ball to move. Self-imposed penalties when no one else is looking are common and go largely unnoticed. But those who witnessed Vu’s actions commented on her honor, character and sportsmanship. After the penalty, she made double bogey, which was the margin she finished out of the lead.
“I did get upset a couple of times, which I don’t like to do because I know this week is hard for everyone,” Vu said. “I tried to stay as patient as possible but Mystic Creek beats you up. I finished 3-under overall, which is okay for here. But I’ve come pretty far in the last two years and I’m really confident and happy with my year overall.”
Park had heard that Mystic Creek was a bear. And she felt bitten on Friday when she posted a 77 and was looking at potentially missing the cut. But on Sunday afternoon, she loved the place. “My lowest round ever is 9-under,” she said. “But it wasn’t on this kind of golf course. This golf course, 7-under par is very special. It’s very special.”