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Graceful exit for past major champion; Six-time winner Park retires from sport

Grace Park announced Friday she is retiring from professional golf at 33. Now she has other decisions to make, such as what to do with the rest of her life.

"I picked up this game when I was 8 years old, I've been competing since I was 10, I really never had any time off," Park said. "I don't even know what I like doing because I pretty much devoted my whole life to being the greatest golfer that I could be. I want to take some time off to find out what I like doing. I want to enjoy some time with family. I've been away from them for 20 years. I'm ready to go home."

Park's parents moved from Seoul, South Korea, to Hawaii when she was 12 so she could pursue a career in golf, which she said wasn't a well-known sport in Korea at the time. Park then moved to Arizona when she was 13 in hopes of attending Arizona State, which she eventually did. She won College Player of the Year at ASU in 1998.

Park was one of the first Korean women to join the LPGA Tour. Some consider her a pioneer.

"It's amazing the changes there have been since the '90s or the early 2000s," Park said. "The field is younger, the skills have really escalated. It's not just an American-based tour, it's a worldwide tour now."

Like fellow competitor Michelle Wie, Park is no stranger to falling short of expectations. Park was one of the best amateur golfers of her time; she was named Rolex Junior Player of the Year in 1994 and 1996. However, she retires as the No. 224-ranked golfer in the world, hampered by injuries throughout her career. Park suffered a severe back injury in 2005, one year after she had her best year on tour.

"I should have taken care of it back then, but I was playing so well that I just played with the pain and it just became worse and worse, where I couldn't practice any more, where I couldn't do anything," said Park, who won her only major title in 2004 when she captured the Kraft Nabisco Championship. "My rankings started to fall, my back got worse, I was miserable. I was in a downward spiral."

Park joined the LPGA Tour in 2000 and won six tournaments in her career. She struggled to find the words to describe her final professional round of golf.

"I started to feel little butterflies and started to get little tears in my eyes," Park said. "The last back nine was very emotional, and I shot three under. I should've gotten emotional more often."

Park finished at 6 over for the championship, good enough to make the cut.

Though she knows her career didn't go as many expected it to, Park is grateful for her time on the tour.

"I didn't quite make it out here on the LPGA Tour, but I had some great wins and great memories, and I will cherish every one of them," she said.

email: amansfield@buffnews.com