SAMMAMISH, Wash. — Inbee Park could finally crack a smile, even if she was five shots behind leader Brooke Henderson.
No more nerves or anxiety whether Park’s injured thumb would hold up, the former Bishop Gorman standout was never more excited to make bogey than on the 18th to finish off the first round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship on Thursday — the round that made her eligible for the LPGA Hall of Fame.
“I was quite nervous this morning. I don’t think I was this nervous when I was going for a major championship,” Park said. “This is a very, very special feeling. And I’m really going to enjoy Hall of Fame.”
Park’s score of 1-over 72 didn’t really matter. It left the three-time defending champion of the event well back of Henderson, who shot a 4-under 67 in her morning round.
At age 27, Park is the youngest player to qualify for the Hall of Fame. She completed the final eligibility requirement by playing the first round of her 10th event of her 10th season. She has won seven major titles and has 17 LPGA Tour victories.
Park has been dealing with inflammation in the tendon and ligaments of her left thumb, but overcame the discomfort to be on the leaderboard for most of the first round before making the bogey on the final hole.
As she walked off the putting surface, Park celebrated with family, Hall of Famers, fellow competitors and tour officials. Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak, Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb were among the crowd greeting Park and welcoming her to an exclusive club in women’s golf. Park is only the 24th player in the LPGA Hall of Fame and first since Pak in 2007.
“It definitely came quicker than I thought. And it obviously wasn’t easy to get there,” Park said. “There were some very hard moments, and very successful moments altogether and made me who I am right now.”
The last time Park played a competitive round she shot 84 at the Volvik Championship in Michigan on May 27 and withdrew after the first round, the second consecutive tournament she pulled out of early.
Park was tied for second at 2 under after rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt on the ninth. She scrambled for pars to start the back nine, making a 15-footer on the 11th after hitting her drive into the rough.
Park bogeyed the 12th and 14th holes to fall back to even par. She missed a short birdie putt at No. 17 and pulled her second shot from the fairway on the 18th and missed a 20-footer for par.
“The score is obviously not the greatest, but I’m satisfied with the score today,” Park said.
Henderson did her part in trying to steal the attention from Park. The 18-year-old Canadian, ranked fourth in the world, sparked her round by making an ace on the 13th hole — her fourth hole of the day — hitting a 7-iron from 155 yards to the left side of the green. The shot caught the apron and funneled directly to the cup.
“It really helped out a lot and gave me momentum for the rest of the day,” said Henderson, who won a car that she gave to sister and caddie Brittany.
Henderson was at 3 under after making a birdie at the difficult par-4 18th — her ninth hole of the day — and overcame struggles with her driver on her second nine that caused her to drop two shots. Henderson birdied three of her final four holes.
“Making the turn I was a little shaky,” Henderson said. “Hit a couple of bad drives. But I was able to scramble, get up-and-down a couple of times that really saved my round and then finished really strong.”
Henderson won in Portland last year and has nine top-10 finishes this season.
Christina Kim and I.K. Kim followed at 69. Christina Kim was at 2 over after three holes before rallying on her second nine.
“This place has absolutely drained me. I’m very, very thankful I was able to play early today,” said Christina Kim, fourth last week in New Jersey after finishing second the previous week in Michigan.
Top-ranked Lydia Ko had an even-par 71 in a round that featured 14 pars, two birdies and two bogeys. Both of Ko’s bogeys came after she missed the fairway and had to pitch out from the trees.
Ariya Jutanugarn, the winner of her last three starts, was tied for fourth at 70. She played alongside Park.
Stacy Lewis shot a 73. Down to seventh in the world, the 31-year-old American is winless in 50 starts since June 2014. She has 10 runner-up finishes during the drought and 23 overall.
Third-ranked Lewis Thompson bogeyed four of her first five holes in a 75.
Michelle Wie shot a 78, making a double bogey and five bogeys. She’s winless since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open and hasn’t had a top-10 finish in 36 events.