Park leads Southern California to national title
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- Annie Park brought more than great skills to Southern California's women's golf team.
The bubbly freshman from Levittown, N.Y., also showed her new teammates how to enjoy their time on the course and ignore the pressure.
"I think she helped loosen up the team in general, which is important," senior Sophia Popov said. "You've got to have fun out there. You can always rely on her. You can say that."
Park shot a 1-under 71 to top the individual standings and help Southern California win its third NCAA tournament title with a record-setting team performance Friday.
Southern California finished at 19-under 1,133 - 15 strokes better than the previous tournament mark set by UCLA in 2004 - to beat second-place Duke by 21 strokes at the University of Georgia Golf Course.
Third-place Purdue was 21 over - 40 shots behind Southern California.
Park finished at 10 under for a six-stroke victory over Duke's Lindy Duncan. Kyung Kim and Popov tied for sixth at 1 over for Southern California, which finished second to Alabama last year by one shot.
Park was in high school when Southern California had a five-stroke lead vanish on the back nine last year in Franklin, Tenn.
Entering the Pac-12 tournament last month in Los Angeles, Park wasn't sure what to think of her game. She had one victory and three other top-10 finishes in six events, but was 27th the week before at Arizona State.
Not only did Park win the Pac-12, she also tied for first two weeks later at the West Regional. Even so, she hardly imagined leaving Athens as the NCAA champion.
"It was unexpected," Park said. "I was just trying to play my best in each round and shot. It turned out to be good."
Alabama junior Stephanie Meadow endured a different kind of day in the swirling wind. Despite leading the nation this season with a 71.1 scoring average and beginning the final round just two strokes off the lead, Meadow fell out contention with a double bogey on the par-4 ninth hole.
Meadow, the tournament's top seed, finished with an 80 to tie for sixth at 1 over.
"I don't really know what happened today," Meadow said. "I just kind of fell off the map and once it went, it went. It's hard to come back when you're going through that emotionally, but it's something I've got to learn from because there's going to be days in the future when I do this. It won't be the last time I shoot 80."
Park became the seventh freshman to win the individual title, joining a group that includes Annika Sorenstam of Arizona in 1991, Vicki Goetze of Georgia in 1992 and Austin Ernst of LSU in 2011.
Southern Cal assistant coach Justin Silverstein cited Park's ability to block out distractions as a strength not seen often in freshmen.
"There's no change in emotion if she makes three birdies in a row or a couple bogeys," Silverstein said. "Her ability to miss it in the proper spots is something you rarely see from an 18-year-old and an ability to do that on a golf course this hard is what kind of what separates people like her from the rest of the pack."
Under head coach Andrea Gaston, the Trojans also won national titles in 2003 and 2008.
"I just saw so much fight in these girls," Gaston said. "We had some tough holes and we fought back and made some birdies to bring our scores back. I think the most impressive thing is it was a team victory. All of them counted at least twice this week."