February 7, 2017 / 7:24 AM / in 8 months

Golf-Olympic champion Park ready for LPGA return

SEOUL, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Olympic champion and seven-times major winner Park In-bee has a relatively modest goal this season -- stay healthy.

The South Korean endured a woeful 2016 due to a nagging thumb injury, the only bright spot being her stunning triumph in Rio where she became the first woman to win golfing gold in 116 years.

The former world number one has slipped down the rankings to 11th and while Park conceded she would one day like to wear that crown once again, she said on Tuesday she had to take it one step at a time.

”The main goal for me this year is to get through the entire season injury-free,“ Yonhap News quoted her as saying at a sports event in Seoul. ”If I can stay healthy throughout the season then everything else will follow.

“I‘m in no rush.”

Park’s decision to play in Rio raised eyebrows in South Korea, with local media going as far as to suggest that she should withdraw from the team due to her injury problems and let another player take her place.

But Park, who at 27 became the youngest player to be inducted into the LPGA’s Hall of Fame last year, proved her doubters wrong by cruising to a five-shot win over an elite field in Brazil.

Park said she would scale down her schedule this season to about 20 events from around 25 in previous years in a bid to stay healthy but expected to make several appearances early on to shake off the rust.

“It might be difficult to hit top form quickly but I think I’ll be able to find it if I play as many tournaments as I can,” she added.

Park’s mental toughness has long been hailed as one of the most important pillars of her game but she conceded that the pressure to keep being successful had told on her last year.

”I started to develop a real fear of failure last year,“ the 28-year-old added. ”I was worried what would happen if I didn’t play well.

“The pressure on me kept growing the more I achieved, the more famous I became. So now I want to just try to enjoy myself when I play.”

Park is set to tee-off at the Honda LPGA Thailand event at the end of the month. (Reporting by Chae Yun Hwan; Writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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