Mention to Annie Park that she was eliminated from the last two U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championships by the respective eventual winners and she nods, yes, and releases off a slight sigh.
Not that Park believes she should be going for a three-peat at the 36th WAPL this week at Neshanic Valley Golf Course, but she hopes her game is trending toward a title.
"I believe I have the potential to win, but it just depends on how I play and the way I think," said the soft-spoken 17-year-old from Levittown, N.Y.
Including Thursday afternoon’s 2-and-1 third-round win over Brittany Altomare, 21, of Shrewsbury, Mass., Park has a 13-7 match play record in eight USGA championship appearances.
In 2010, Park lost to 2012 Curtis Cup member Emily Tubert in the WAPL’s third round. Last year, Park lost to Brianna Do in the WAPL semifinals. Park also reached last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur quarterfinals.
So what is Park’s state of mind?
"I made the semifinals last year, so it’s giving me a bit more confidence going into [Friday] knowing that I’ve advanced this far before," she said. "I am feeling really good with my swing right now, because I was hitting it all over the place in stroke play. So I got that back and we’ll see what happens tomorrow. My putting is petty good. It’s going in the hole."
After defeating two-time Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup participant Sally Watson, of Scotland, 3 and 1 in a see-saw second-round match on Thursday morning, Park had a somewhat easier match against Altomare.
Park went 2 up with two opening pars before Altomare squared the match with a par on the 169-yard third and birdie on the 401-yard, fifth. Park made birdies from 12 and 8 feet, respectively, to win the 295-yard, par-4 seventh and 365-yard eighth. She lost the par-5 ninth with a bogey.
A 6-foot birdie putt won Park the 11th hole and she nearly aced the12th as her 52-degree wedge from 132 yards lipped out and stopped 2 feet away, setting up the fourth of her five birdies in the round.
Altomare cut into Park’s 3-up lead with par on the par-5 14th and birdie on the 361-yard 15th.
At the driveable 16th hole, which was playing less than 300 yards on Thursday, Altomare’s tee shot found the left greenside bunker, coming to rest inches away from the lip. Regardless of Altomare’s play, Park opted for the 4-iron.
"In my match this morning. Sally went for the green, hit a really good shot and 2-putted for birdie," Park said. "But I had confidence with my wedges and my putt this afternoon was similar to what I had this morning."
Park’s approach from 54 yards was 7 feet under the hole and she rolled in the birdie to go dormie-2. For good measure, Park won the 139-yard 17th after some motherly advice from her caddie, Ann.
As Park sized up her curving 25-foot birdie attempt, Ann Park uncharacteristically walked out onto the green.
"She said get it as close as possible and I was like, ‘Mom, that’s what I have been trying to do this whole time,’" said Park.
For Altomare, who won the Massachusetts Women's Open on June 8 and finished second at the Women's Eastern Amateur Championship last week, her exit was a matter of making too few birdies.
"I’m playing well, but it’s match play and anything can happen," said Altomare, who has made the WAPL match-play bracket each of the past three years, but has advanced no further than the quarterfinals in 2011. "Yes, it’s frustrating, but, again, it’s match play.
"I have the [U.S. Women’s] Open in two weeks, so really looking forward to that now."
Park is also headed to the Women’s Open, her first, and she certainly would not mind having a USGA title in tow.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA championship websites.