“Welcoming the world” was a common phrase this past weekend as Waterloo hosted the LPGA Manulife Financial Classic at Grey Silo Golf Course.
The four-day long golf tournament saw a spectacular collection of 145 female professional golfers, 1,200 volunteers and thousand of enthusiastic spectators.
“I love Canada,” said Hee Young Park, this year’s LPGA Classic winner. “Last year [at the] Manulife Financial tournament I finished pretty well [and so] I thought to myself that I could win [in] Canada.”
The 26-year-old South Korean golfer captured the title after sinking a birdie on the 18th hole, defeating opponent and second-place finisher Angela Stanford.
Park was trailing Stanford by three strokes after the 13th hole earlier that day and later birdied a comeback, forcing a draw on the 18.
It took the players three dramatic playoff holes to decide a winner.
After running the rough off the tee, Stanford botched her chances for the win.
“I was trying to get it up that right side and I didn’t realize it was in the rough,” she explained after the loss. “I thought I hit it good off the tee.”
Park closed the deal after hitting the green in two swings and capturing a final birdie.
“Yeah, it seems kind of tough to swallow right now,” Stanford added. “I did everything I could […] but you play to win.”
Both women tied the LPGA Tour record for lowest total score with an impressive 26-under-par 258. This marked the lowest 72-hole score in LPGA history.
“In golf, no one knows that we’re finished until we putt [it] in the hole,” Park explained when asked about her playoff rounds with Stanford. “I try to not pay attention to [my opponent’s] play.
“It doesn’t matter if she is close to [the hole] or not […] I just try to do my best.”
Park’s win was her second LPGA Tour title and will move her to 71st on the LPGA Career Money List with $3,225,771 earned to date.
However, she is also beginning to make a name for her off the green.
Park had the crowd laughing as she accepted the Manulife trophy and her first-place cheque of $195,000. She joked about her love for hockey, her superstitions and her mission to be the “number one” funniest player on the LPGA Tour.
Park was also very impressed with how supportive Canadian fans were towards all the players in the LPGA.
“I was surprised that all Canadian people came out,” she said, when comparing Canadian fans to her Korean supporters.
“They root for us even outside the golf course […] even when we’re out for dinner they come up to you and give you free appetizers and free food,” she joked to a laughing room.
But Park’s sentiments were echoed by the response from the community. The Manulife Classic held one of the largest collections of volunteers in Waterloo, with over 12,000 volunteer participants over four days.
Michelle Lantink, the chair volunteer that dealt with admissions at the LPGA Classic explained that 90 per cent of volunteers she worked with in the previous year were more than willing to come back for a second round.
“It gives us a profile, because a lot of people don’t know about Kitchener-Waterloo, and if they do it’s because of the technology triangle,” she explained. “Bringing all these people brings money into the community.”
“You get to profile different business and the community,” she added.
Another volunteer, Courtney Stoner, was actually an employee of Manulife Financial when the opportunity to volunteer arose in October of 2012.
“There were so many people that said such great things,” she said. “So I thought I’d take a couple of days off work and come enjoy the LPGA.”
The next stop on the LPGA tour is July 18-21 in Sylvania, Ohio. The only other Canadian stop on the tour is in Edmonton, Alta., when the lady players participate in the CN Canadian Women’s Open.
– With files from Shelby Blackley