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How a mental health break helped Annie Park rediscover her love of golf

(Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images)

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Annie Park crunched numbers ahead of the weekend at the JTBC Classic, the final tournament before the Chevron Championship, figuring out where she needed to finish to qualify for the first major of the year.

Park’s calculations proved to be perfect after she shot a final-round 68 on Sunday, her lowest total of the year. With that result, she ended up 80th on the CME list and became the last player to make it into the Chevron Championship field.

Sunday’s round was the first Park enjoyed since the 2019 Solheim Cup. The T23 finish was her best since she took a two-month mental health break in the middle of the 2021 season to address her anxieties and doubts about her future in golf.

“I was just at a point where I was so confused about everything and a lot of stuff where I had trouble breathing,” she said. “I felt like I had so much on my plate, I didn’t know how to empty it.”

During her fifth year on the LPGA Tour in 2021, Park felt her habits beginning to catch up to her. Her body started to cry out in response to the stress accumulated from suppressing her emotions. She took medication for three months during the year, treating ulcers and acid reflux in her stomach. Park found she would sob uncontrollably with seemingly no trigger, even when she was driving. Not knowing what was causing her pain only added to the anxiety of playing.

“I don’t want to be on the golf course and bawling my eyes out of nowhere,” Park said.

After the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in the middle of July, Park shut it down, passing on five tournaments and returning at the end of September with four events left on the LPGA calendar.

The first tournament she withdrew from was the Evian Championship, the fourth major of the season in France.

“Why should I travel across the world when I don’t want to be there and be miserable for a week? I don’t want to do that,” she said. “Give that spot to someone who actually really wants to be there and wants to have the experience of it.”

Major championships are worth more points in the CME standings, the currency the LPGA uses to determine a player’s tour status for the next season. With Park’s guaranteed status expiring at the end of the 2021 season, she had to play her way into the top 100 to maintain her card and avoid going to Q-Series, the LPGA’s qualifying school.

She planned to give it her best shot, but even if she missed the mark, Park was at peace with the outcome.

“My ranking does not justify Annie Park,” she explained, “because outside of the golf course, I’m a human being. I’m still a friend, still a daughter to someone.”

The time she spent away from the sport allowed her to explore other passions. Park worked on ceramics, discovered her love of dance, listened to music and enjoyed cycling and working out. Instead of reading up on flight deals for LPGA travel, Park dove into books and articles at her Dallas home. She read one about crying and how the release of serotonin can lead to positive health effects, which resonated with the 26-year-old after she felt she had bottled up her emotions for years.

“It’s OK to be introspective once in a while [and ask yourself], ‘What are you doing? What are you going through? Are you OK?’ That’s a question I never asked myself for the last couple of years,” she said.

When the tour returned to the United States, Park rejoined the competition at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship following the Cambia Portland Classic in late September. People asked her if she was recovering from an injury that led to the break.

“There’s a lot of eyes watching us, and sometimes people have high expectations of you, and if you don’t meet them, you get disappointed,” Park said. “I think that eventually creeps into you judging yourself, expecting too much of yourself, expecting that you need to do this, you have to succeed, you have to win this event, or if you don’t, the world is ending.”

The most important lesson she learned during the two months away was to trust her intuition rather than ignore it. With that guiding her thinking, the USC alum played just well enough in her final four events of 2021 to eke into 98th place on the CME list and maintain her tour card. She wasn’t, however, guaranteed a start at the Chevron Championship, with only the top 80 on the CME leaderboard in 2021 earning entry into this year’s first major tournament.

Park focused on improving her game through the first tournaments of the 2022 season. She worked through mechanical changes during her two LPGA starts in January and early February before taking an eight-week break ahead of the JTBC Classic last weekend. Park retooled her bag, adding a new Scotty Cameron putter. She even got a manicure with a smiley-faced design on her fingernail a couple of weeks before the JTBC Classic, symbolizing the joy she’s rediscovered in golf.

“I think I have that fire again, which I just kind of lost during COVID,” Park said. “I think that fire gives me that thrill of being out on the golf course again. I think that was huge last week, to feel that again.”

Now, ahead of her sixth career start at the Chevron Championship, she has the tools to balance her career and her personal life. And at last, she feels comfortable sharing her story.

“[I wanted to] let other people know they’re not alone,” Park said. “I think that’s the biggest thing that we always forget, is we always think we’re alone. There is a community that goes through it, goes through similar things.

“We’re here to support each other.”

Kent Paisley is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.

USA Women’s Basketball Releases Olympic Roster, Explains Clark’s Omission

USA Women's Basketball's Diana Taurasi #12, Brittney Griner #15 and Sabrina Ionescu #6 at April's National Team Training Camp
All the players tapped for this year's Olympic roster have senior national team experience. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

USA Women's Basketball announced its official Olympic roster on Tuesday, with officials noting that Caitlin Clark’s lack of national team experience played a key role in her omission.

Selection committee chair Jen Rizzotti said that the committee evaluated players according to a set of on-court criteria they were given.

"When you base your decision on criteria, there were other players that were harder to cut because they checked a lot more boxes," she told reporters on Tuesday. "Then sometimes it comes down to position, style of play for [coach Cheryl Reeve] and then sometimes a vote."

Three first-time Olympians made the squad: Alyssa Thomas, Sabrina Ionescu, and Kahleah Copper. Additionally, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum will make the switch to the national 5-on-5 team after winning gold in the inaugural 3×3 competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Age, Rizzotti said, was "never brought up" in player selection discussions. It’s the first time in Olympic history that a USA Women’s Basketball 5-on-5 team will travel to the Games without a single player under 26 years old.

Rizzotti commented that all the players tapped for this year's Olympic roster have senior national team experience, something that Clark does not have.

"She's certainly going to continue to get better and better," USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley added. "Really hope that she's a big part of our future going forward."

Rizzotti said it would have been "irresponsible" to base roster decisions on anything outside of a basketball context. Marketing and popularity were not on the selection committee’s list of criteria. 

"It would be irresponsible for us to talk about her in a way other than how she would impact the play of the team," Rizzotti said. "Because it wasn't the purview of our committee to decide how many people would watch or how many people would root for the US. It was our purview to create the best team we could for Cheryl."

Clark expressed that she'll be using what some consider a snub as fuel for a run at the 2028 Olympic team. 

"I think it just gives you something to work for," Clark told media after practice Sunday. "It's a dream. Hopefully one day I can be there. I think it's just a little more motivation. You remember that. Hopefully when four years comes back around, I can be there."

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" on Expert Adjacent

Arsenal Women Confirm US Tour, Preseason Friendlies

Arsenal's Lotte Wubben-Moy battles with Mayra Ramirez of Chelsea at the 2023/24 FA Women's Continental Tyres League Cup Final
The last time Chelsea and Arsenal faced off, the Gunners took home the FA Women's League Cup. (Copa/Getty Images)

Arsenal announced on Monday that it will join Chelsea for a series of preseason friendlies in the US in August. 

Arsenal will be based in Washington, DC from August 15th through August 26th. The Gunners are scheduled to play the Washington Spirit on August 18th, followed by a match with fellow WSL team Chelsea on August 25th. It’s the first time that the two London clubs will meet each other on this side of the Atlantic. 

Chelsea had previously announced their game against Gotham FC, confirming reports from ESPN that surfaced last month.

"We always want to create the best conditions for our teams to prepare and perform at their best in pre-season," said Arsenal sporting director Edu Gaspar in a statement. "This gives our players an opportunity to play and train in a new environment, in front of our supporters around the world."

Both Arsenal and Chelsea tout rosters full of international talent — formidable opponents for two equally stacked NWSL teams gearing up for postseason action. Arsenal is home to accomplished England nationals Leah Williamson, Beth Mead, and backheel goal-scorer Alessia Russo alongside Ireland captain Katie McCabe and USWNT defender Emily Fox.

The games are set to be streamed live for free on DAZN.

Arsenal's US tour builds off of a trip to Melbourne, Australia at the tail end of the 2023/24 season, where they beat A-League All Stars women 1-0 in front of 42,120 fans.

US Women Defeat NC Courage to Claim $1 Million TST Prize

TST team US Women celebrate a semifinal win
USWNT legend Heather O’Reilly led the 7-on-7 side to victory at Monday's TST championship. (The Soccer Tournament)

The US Women 7-on-7 team won the first-ever edition of The Soccer Tournament’s women’s bracket, taking home the $1 million prize.

The TST concluded on Monday, with Ali Krieger and Heather O’Reilly leading the US Women past the North Carolina Courage’s 7-on-7 team to a 6-3 victory.

"I mean, at that moment, you're not thinking right? Like, I just saw the ball come to me and i was able to put it in the back of the net," said game-winning goal-scorer Talia DellaPeruta. "And it was just... everything kind of stopped for a second. When it went in, I just could not believe it. Like, that was the winning goal, everything that we had worked for this whole weekend.

"I'm just so grateful that I can contribute in that way and to be surrounded by such legends on the field. I mean, to be able to get us over that line, it's the best feeling I've ever felt. This is the best day ever."

Each team member will take home $40,000, with the winnings split equally amongst the 25-person group. First launched in 2023, TST is now the world’s highest-stakes women’s soccer tournament, offering equal $1 million prizes for both the men’s and women’s champions.

"Every single person, staff, players — we deserve it. One million dollars!" O'Reilly said in a team huddle after the victory.

USA Basketball Reportedly Finalizes 2024 Olympic Roster

Jewell Loyd #4 of the United States and Breanna Stewart #10 of the United States celebrate the teams victory during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Japan V USA basketball final
This will be the first year since 1976 that USA Women's Basketball travels to the Summer Games without a single player under 26 years old. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

The women’s basketball roster for the Paris Olympics has reportedly been decided, with star WNBA rookie Caitlin Clark left off the 12-player roster.

Three first-time Olympians are slated to join the team: the Sun's Alyssa Thomas, the Mercury's Kahleah Copper, and the Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu. Meanwhile Clark, Brionna Jones, and Aliyah Boston are reportedly on the short-list for an injury replacement should any of the rostered players not make it to Paris, according to The Athletic.

Chelsea Gray and Brittney Griner, who were both named to the team, are currently in the process of returning from injury.

"I'm excited for the girls that are on the team," Clark told reporters Sunday. "I know it's the most competitive team in the world and I know it could have gone either way — me being on the team or me not being on the team. I'm going to be rooting them on to win gold. I was a kid that grew up watching the Olympics, so it will be fun to watch them.

"Honestly, no disappointment. It just gives me something to work for — it's a dream... Hopefully when four years comes back around, I can be there."

The reported Olympic lineup leans heavily on its veterans, with Diana Taurasi preparing for her sixth Olympic Games — a new all-time international basketball record. In fact, not a single player under the age of 26 was listed, a noteworthy departure from previous years.

In every Olympic roster dating back to 1976, at least two players under the age of 25 made it onto the US women's basketball team. Nancy Lieberman, the youngest player to ever compete for the US Olympic basketball team, was just 18 when she joined the 1976 Summer Games. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, WNBA stars Napheesa Collier and A’ja Wilson were both rostered at 24 years old.

Clark said USA Basketball officials called to tell her the news before it reached the press, the same approach they used for all other Olympic hopefuls. But according to Fever head coach Christie Sides, what some might see as a snub could also act as the catalyst for improved performance in the future.

"The thing she said was, 'Hey coach, they woke a monster,' which I thought was awesome," Sides said.

Clark also expressed excitement about the potential to get some much-needed rest during the Olympic break.

"Absolutely, it's going to be really nice," Clark said. "I've loved competing every single second. But it's going to be a great month for my body to get rest, get healthy and just get a little time away from basketball and the craziness of everything that's been going on. And just find some peace and quiet for myself.

"But then additionally, it's a great opportunity for us to work and get better. A great opportunity for myself to get in the weight room. To work on the court, at things that I want to get better at that I maybe didn't have time [to] going from college to the pro season."

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