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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.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

Chicago Sky Upset New York to End Liberty’s Unbeaten Streak

chicago sky's angel reese on the court against new york liberty
Angel Reese registered a near double-double against a strong Liberty side. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Liberty’s unbeaten streak came to an end on Thursday as Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky got the upset win over New York with a final score of 90-81. 

Angel Reese stood out with a near double-double, registering 13 points and nine rebounds. She’s currently the only rookie this season to exceed 10 points in her first three games, and the first player in Sky history to begin their career with three consecutive double-digit scoring games, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The outcome may not have come as a surprise to Liberty stars Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, who sung Reese’s praises ahead of the game.

"She’s a workhorse," Stewart told The Post. "She doesn’t stop. She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s tough to box out and good at cleaning up for her team offensively and defensively."

"I feel like she’s an energizer bunny," Jones added. "She doesn’t stop moving, she doesn’t stop crashing the boards. Just someone that is gonna be relentless in her approach to getting to the glass and playing tough."

It was the first time Chicago has met New York this season. The game was especially meaningful for new Chicago head coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who led the Liberty for seven years as a player and joined the team's Ring of Honor in 2011.

"This place means a lot to me... I played in that jersey, I adored that jersey, I adored every player that I had an opportunity to play with. The love that I received even today was overwhelming," Weatherspoon reflected after the game.

Following the win, Sky guard Dana Evans had some kind words for her coach.

"I mean, it's just special. She's special," Evans said. "She just breeds confidence in each and every one of us. We love her. We just wanted to go so hard and play hard for her, and I feel like this one was really for her. We really wanted this for her more than anything."

Thursday's victory brings Chicago's record to 2-1, a somewhat unlikely feat given that their offseason featured starter Kahleah Copper getting traded to Phoenix. The Connecticut Sun are now the only undefeated team left in the league this season, and will formidable foes for the Sky as they take their winning streak on the road to Chicago this weekend.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

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