March 29 (Reuters) - Park Inbee said the prospect of defending her Olympic title at this year’s Tokyo Games is driving her on this season after the South Korean started her 2021 LPGA Tour campaign with victory at the Kia Classic on Sunday.
The world number four, who won gold at Rio in 2016 as golf made its return to the Olympics for the first time since 1904, collected her 21st LPGA Tour title with a five-shot win over Americans Amy Olson and Lexi Thompson in California.
The 32-year-old is now four wins away from matching Pak Se-ri’s record for the most LPGA Tour victories by a South Korean but she said the chance to defend her Olympic title in Tokyo was her top priority.
“The good motivation for me obviously now is the Olympics,” said Park, who topped the podium ahead of New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and China’s Shanshan Feng in Rio.
“I knew that the Olympics was going to happen (this year), and it really motivates me, trying to prepare myself at my best so I can represent the country,” she was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
The top 15 players in the world rankings at the end of June qualify for the July 23-Aug. 8 Tokyo Games, with a maximum of four golfers allowed from each country.
Despite being No. 4 in the world, Park is only the third-highest ranked South Korean player, behind No. 1 Ko Jin-young and No. 2 Kim Sei-young.
“Trying to qualify myself for the Olympics is actually not as easy as like winning a tournament,” Park added.
“You have to play really well for four years after the Olympics is done and you have to be playing best at the time.
“But I think I am getting close. I wouldn’t say I’m safe but getting close to my goal.” (Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford )