GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Inbee Park could have been the subject of a "whatever happened to" story at last year's ShopRite LPGA Classic.

Park, a former U.S. Open champion, was ranked No. 26 in the world last June. She finished tied for 18th at the 2012 Classic - 10 shots behind winner Stacy Lewis.

This year, she comes to Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club as the world's No. 1 player. The 24-year-old from South Korea is one of the favorites when the $1.5 million ShopRite Classic begins Friday on the Bay Course.

"It sure feels like longer than one year, but it's only been one year," Park said Wednesday during a news conference at Seaview. "I mean, everything just happened really quick."

Park has won five times since last year's Classic, with three of those victories this year. She won the LPGA's first major of 2013 - the Kraft Nabisco Championship - in April.

Lewis began the season at No. 1. Park took over the top spot the week after her Kraft victory. Lewis is now No. 2.

Park started playing golf when she was 10 years old. She moved to Las Vegas to play junior golf in the United States and attended Bishop Gorman High School in Nevada.

Park began playing professional golf almost immediately after graduating high school, and she became an instant success.

Park wowed the women's golf world when she won the 2008 U.S. Women's Open at 19. She was the youngest player ever to win that tournament.

Many LPGA fans figured she would dominate the tour from there. It didn't happen. Park struggled from 2009-11.

She didn't win any LPGA events. She fell to 27th in scoring average in 2011.

Park then remodeled her swing between 2011 and 2012 with the help of her fiance and coach, Gihyeob Nam.

Park said she should have made the swing changes earlier than last year, but she didn't have enough confidence to do it.

"I was hitting the ball really bad (in 2011), so I didn't really have a choice," she said. "I had to do something."

It took some time for the swing changes to work under pressure. Park said she played well early in the tournaments last year but then fell part in the final round.

Park's turnaround began the week after last year's ShopRite Classic when she finished tied for ninth at the Wegmans LPGA Championship in New York.

Since last year's Classic, Park has played 24 events. In addition to her five wins, she has nine Top-5 finishes.

With her ball striking improved, Park's talent as a putter propelled her to the top. Putts that she once made for par were now dropping in the cup for birdie.

"Inbee can putt it better than anybody I've ever seen," Lewis said.

Park seems better able to handle her success now than in 2008. She smiled easily during Wednesday's news conference.

"I've gone through the bad times before, and I'm a lot older now than before.," she said with a smile. "Experience has really helped me."

Golf consumes some players. That doesn't seem to be the case with Park.

She's doing her best not to get caught up in the pressure of being No. 1.

"I'm not trying to think that I'm the No. 1 player.," she said. "I just try to think I'm one of the players out here trying to win the tournament."

She did that last week when the LPGA held a rain-shortened tournament in the Bahamas. She finished tied for 107th, but Park spoke positively about the experience, saying she had fun swimming and riding jet skis.

This week, she's staying at an Atlantic City casino. She admitted she might be found at the craps table this week.

"My family (and) fans, they might think, you have to be No. 1 forever," she said. "What I'm trying to do is just enjoy my life."

Contact Michael McGarry:

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