The golf course has always been a place of comfort for Amber Park. It allows her to keep her life in the fairway. From a young age, Park said she remembers playing with her father, which helped her begin to feel more comfortable about her new life on a new continent.
“Golf has been the steadiest thing in my life,” Park said.
Park moved to the United States from South Korea with her parents, Bu Kyoung and Hyeog, just before her second birthday. She said life was not always easy, but she found her way through, much to the credit of golf. Now a junior at Texas A&M and a member of the women’s golf team, Park has excelled both academically and on the course.
There is more to her story than meets the eye.
Shortly after Park’s freshman season ended, head coach Trelle McCombs was fired by A&M. McCombs had been the Aggies’ head coach for 11 seasons, and was the person who recruited Park to College Station.
“It was a big shock,” Park said. “Though I knew it was for the better and the best for our team.”
Andrea Gaston, a three-time national champion head coach, was hired by A&M to replace McCombs. Although it was an unexpected change, Park said she has enjoyed Gaston’s coaching and sees a lot of herself in their new mentor.
“We’re both really competitive,” Park said. “She loves the game of golf, and she’ll do all that she can to help us grow and become the best players that we can be. Her work ethic is awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her take a break.”
Despite only being a sophomore for the 2018-2019 season, Park said she felt as if she had to step up under the new regime. The team is young, and she is already one of the more experienced players.
“She leads by example,” Gaston said. “She’s probably one of the hardest working individuals on our team. I think she’s very focused on becoming a better player and doing the things that are going to make her not only a better player, but a better person… I’ve been very impressed by that.”
Park stressed that one of the most important characteristics to her is having a strong work ethic. Along with that, she defined a leader as someone who cares for others, especially in an individual sport like golf.
“It can be really easy to become selfish,” Park said. “I’m working my hardest to show [my teammates] that it doesn’t have to be like that.”
Even so, Park can take care of herself when she needs to, according to her younger brother Aaron, a sophomore at Allen High School.
“I like how independent she is, and how she doesn’t really need to rely on anybody to be successful,” Aaron said. “She’s just hardworking and can push through anything.”
Park needed to have those characteristics to get to where she is today.
After moving to Texas from Korea, her family’s first home was in Mesquite, just east of Dallas, Park said. Her parents opened a donut shop that they still operate today. For the past 18 years, Park said her parents have worked hard for what they have, including daily 3 a.m. wake-up times. But life was not always as pleasant as it is now.
“It was really difficult for me growing up in [Mesquite], a low socio-economic area,” Park said. “There were not a lot of people like me.”
It would not be long until Park found something that would help her adapt.
“My dad started playing golf when we came here because golf in Korea is really expensive,” Park said.
She followed his lead, first picking up a club at the age of five.
“When my dad found out my sister enjoyed playing golf, he was just amazed and really happy,” Aaron said.
Park said she soon found herself teeing it up with her father regularly, which was crucial to her starting to enjoy life in Texas. Little did she know how far the game would take her.
“That’s when I really started being able to spend more time with him and go out to the golf course together,” Park said. “That’s where I learned how to socialize.”
The young golfer said she began playing competitively around the age of 12. Even through the adversity that any golfer experiences, her love for the game continued to grow. Soon, Park said she decided to pursue golf more seriously.
“We moved to Allen because of what I wanted to do with my golf career,” Park said.
As a freshman at Allen High School in 2014, Park was a member of the varsity team and helped the school win a state title. She said the early success showed her what the standards were for that team, and it was a happy moment for the team to be recognized.
Park’s success continued throughout her high school career, which led to both all-district and all-state recognition. When the time came, she was the No. 2 recruit from the state of Texas, according to Golfweek. None of that came without hard work though, as her brother noticed.
“She put a lot of time in,” Aaron said. “In fact, I rarely got to see her while she was still here because after school she would go to golf from four to eight o’clock. At home, should would have to catch up on her academics. I’ve never seen anyone work harder than her.”
Since the golf recruitment process begins earlier than other sports, Park said it was overwhelming at first. She was contacted by colleges at the beginning of her freshman year, but said it was hard to see herself somewhere else in four years at such a young age.
“You start taking visits towards the end of sophomore year,” Park said. “I only visited a couple of schools within Texas. I saw A&M and saw the potential I could have there.”
Park had a promising start to her collegiate career in College Station. As a freshman, she had three top-10 finishes and was second in the SEC among freshman with 96 birdies, according to 12thman.com. Despite making it look easy, Park said it was a challenge trying to separate golf, school and her social life.
“It takes a special kind of student-athlete to be able to do that,” Gaston said. “Usually, in their [first two years] I think they encounter a lot of challenges. It’s the first time they’re really on their own having to make decisions for themselves.”
Coming into her sophomore season, Park said there was a tough dynamic with the new players and a new coaching staff. Their results reflected this, as the team never finished inside the top-five during their 2018 fall schedule.
When spring arrived, the story was different. The Aggies managed four top-five finishes in six tournaments and won a match-play event against Texas State. The team’s turnaround earned them a 19th consecutive NCAA Regional selection, where they placed 13th in May. Park led the way during the regular season with a 73.29 scoring average, two top-five finishes and four top-10’s.
“This last fall and spring have really helped her mental game, as well as physically,” Gaston said. “She’s been working extremely hard, and I think the results speak for themselves with her top finishing and lower scoring. She’s improved considerably from last semester to this semester.”
Park said when she is not on the golf course, she still loves to be outdoors. Her favorite activities include adventuring on hikes and hammocking with friends. The sports conditioning major said she also enjoys her classes, especially Nutrition 202 with Dr. Creasy.
“I learned about the behind-the-scenes of what goes into your training and what heals your body,” Park said. “I thought that was really interesting.”
During the season, Park said some of the happiest times are when her parents are able to come and watch her compete. They are her biggest supporters, and even though they cannot make it to every tournament, Park said that makes it more special when they are there.
“They were able to come out to our event in Denton,” Park said. “That was really cool because my parents were able to take out the whole team for barbecue. That meant a lot to me. My teammates really enjoyed it, and the coaches were having a lot of fun. That was definitely one of the highlights of my season.”
Park and her family have not forgotten where they came from. Aaron said that they try to visit family in Korea every couple of years. Amber said she does not take for granted what her parents have done for her.
“Golf is a really big sport in South Korea, and I have a lot of pride in that,” Park said. “I think it’s really awesome that my parents were able to come here and support me.”
Park still remembers the struggles of her first years in the United States. Her strong work ethic, independence and love of golf, as described by those that know her, have helped her continue to find the fairway in the country her family now calls home.
Looking to the future, Park said she plans to pursue a professional career in golf, but for now, she doesn’t mind going back to where it all started.
“My mom has been getting into [golf],” Park said. “But whenever I am home my dad and I still go and play all the time.”