A coaching adjustment helped USC’s Catherine Park, the daughter of an Olympic gold medalist, tie an NCAA record and lead NCAA Championship

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Justin Silverstein admits his staff has sacrificed down the stretch with his latest coaching adjustment.

The USC’s women’s golf coach started walking with freshman Catherine Park at the Silverado Showdown in early April. He wouldn’t step in much, but he did offer advice on figuring out yardages and helping read greens when needed.

That switch has paid dividends for Park. She tied for second that week. The next tournament, the Pac-12 Championships, she tied for third as USC won the team title. At the Pullman Regional, Park finished T-17.

And on the biggest stage of them all, Park is out in front of the field with 18 holes of stroke play to go at Grayhawk Golf Club in the 2023 NCAA Women’s Golf Championship searching for her first collegiate win.

“I kept telling my boss that Catherine was going to bust out,” Silverstein said. “It kind of took a little longer, but I think the final push was a little more on-course coaching.”

Park shot 1-under 71 on Sunday, which had the most difficult conditions of the week by far, to take the lead at 10-under 206. She has a four-shot lead on Rose Zhang, the defending individual champion, as well as Oklahoma State’s Maddison Hinson-Tolchard and Florida State’s Charlotte Heath.

However, it was her second round Saturday that put her into the NCAA record books. Park shot 8-under 64, which tied the low round at an NCAA Women’s Golf Championship.

“I did not realize it at all until they posted it,” Park said Sunday. “I did not expect it at all to be tied for the record. I tried to not get into my head for today’s round. I didn’t want to overthink and tried to be steady.”

As Silverstein alluded to, Park had been trending toward a breakout all season. Her lowest round of the season, a 66, came in the first day of the Pullman Regional. She has three top-six finishes, all since March.

Then Saturday and into Sunday, it all came together.

Silverstein said a switch in November from drawing the ball to cutting it was the first thing to propel Park. Then it was her improvement on the greens, where she has gained almost two strokes.

“On greens this nasty, she has really bought in to hitting her putts softer, and her speed control has been really good except for a couple putts today,” Silverstein said.

Park is enjoying the competitive nature of being high on the leaderboard at the national championship. She grew up in a successful athletic family. Her mother, Seo Hyang-soon, became Korea’s first Olympic gold medalist when she won gold medal in archery at the 1984 Olympics at 17 years old. Her father, Park Kyung-ho, is a 1986 Asian Games gold medalist in judo.

That history and relationship with her parents has benefited Park on and off the course.

“It’s really helpful for me when I’m struggling mentally, they help me get back up because they understand what I’m feeling,” she said.

Come Monday, Park will face her biggest challenge yet. She’ll be gunning for an individual national title, trying to become the third straight freshman to win at the NCAAs.

Chasing her will be Zhang (the top-ranked amateur in the world) as well as the Big 12 individual champion Hinson-Tolchard and a finalist for the ANNIKA Award, given to the top female college golfer, in Heath.

In the team competition, USC is in fourth and in great position to make it into match play. However, 18 more holes await.

It’s a competition Park’s looking forward to.

“I’m so stoked because we’re sitting in a pretty good place,” Park said. “I have such strong confidence, and our team is strong. I know they’re going to light it up tomorrow.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek