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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Park Proving to Be No Plain Jane

In her first AJGA tournament, 13-year-old from La Crescenta wins by two strokes in Illinois.

August 04, 2000|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jane Park sounds quite like most 13-year-olds, punctuating her perky sentences with adjectives such as "cool" and "awesome," as well as other bits of adolescent lingo.

Such vernacular sums up her golf game, too.

She's awesome! She might become, like, the next Tiger Woods!

So say observers--those her own age, anyway--who have seen Park swing a golf club. But elders are impressed, too.

Park, a month shy of entering eighth grade in La Crescenta, pondered the comparison but considered it a long shot.

"I don't know," Park said of her golf idol. "He is awesome."

It might be too soon for Park to concern herself with such heady thoughts. But at this stage of the game, her profile is rising fast.

Park already has shown glimpses, perhaps, of a career to come.

She entered her first American Junior Golf Assn. tournament last week at Galena, Ill., and emerged with a two-stroke victory. Park pulled out the victory with two birdies on the back nine to finish with a 78-75-153 in the tournament for 13-15 year-olds.

This week, Park has scrambled. She is tied for eighth, 12 strokes off the lead, after two rounds of the AJGA IZZO Colorado Junior Roundup at Legacy Ridge Golf Course near Denver. The tournament concludes today.

Park, whose relentless work ethic is surpassed only, perhaps, by her self-critical nature, said her goal is finish among the top five.

"I was so bad [Thursday]," Park said. "If I don't shoot well, I really get mad. It's just my attitude. I'm just numb."

Park's success stems from a relentless work ethic and ability superior to most golfers her age, particular off the tee.

"She has a lot of natural ability and she's not afraid to attack the ball," said Ted Eleftheriou, teaching pro at Scholl Canyon Golf and Tennis Club in Glendale.

Eleftheriou for years has tutored Michael Park, Jane's brother and Pacific League champion for Crescenta Valley High as a freshman and sophomore.

He began working with Jane two years ago and immediately predicted rapid improvement.

"I caddied for her in a tournament and she was hitting three woods off the tee that were [traveling] longer than other people who were using drivers," Eleftheriou said. "Oh, my word, she is incredibly talented. In five years, I think Jane Park, if she doesn't burn out, will be an LPGA member and a person who can win major titles."

Overemphasis on competition can be a bane for young golfers, Eleftheriou said. Since Woods' fame soared to phenomenal levels, interest in the game likewise has increased among youths, and so has demand for instruction.

"The Tiger Woods phenomenon has been great for the game and the market," Eleftheriou said. "But the biggest thing [for young golfers] is to still have fun."

Park admits it sometimes is a struggle to keep matters in perspective. She practices long hours and is constantly focused on golf.

"I don't get to talk to my friends and do things a kid wants," she said. "I just play golf, like, 24-7. But I won [an AJGA] tournament the first time out. That was one of my goals and I've done that."

Eleftheriou described Park as among the hardest-working pupils he has had.

"One thing I see with Jane that I don't see with a lot of other people, she practices every aspect of her game," Eleftheriou said. "A couple of hours on her full swing, a couple of hours putting."

Park has yet to break par. Her best score was an even-par 73 at Yorba Linda Country Club.

"I try so hard, I expect to shoot even par every time out," Park said. "Usually, if I do well, I shoot two or three over. The girls I play with, I'm told they've been playing two or three years or more. They say, 'You just need more experience. A lot of these girls have been playing way longer than you.'

"But since I practice so hard, later on I'll benefit."

*

On The Green: LPGA tournament will not be returning to Wood Ranch. D12

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