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Park prepared to tackle greens at Aviara

Inbee Park is considered the best putter on the LPGA tour.

She is also the defending champion of the JTBC Classic, which begins a four-day run at the Aviara Golf Club this morning.

So it was a bit surprising earlier this week to hear Park talk about the greens at Aviara — a subject that became a featured topic, along with poa annua — during pre-tourney media meetings.

Poa, as it’s known, is an annual bluegrass that is prevalent on greens in the region. It can be found in the greens at Aviara, where the greens are very large and multi-tiered at spots.

Poa can play tricks with even the sharpest hit putts. Poa can slow a ball on an uphill putt and add speed downhill. And players say the tiny buds of poa can cause a putt to bounce and change directions at the final second.

“This golf course really suits me well,” said Park, who was a three-time runner-up at Aviara before winning last year. “When I played Monday, it reminded me of last year and how I played and how tough these greens are.

“It’s the greens that (will) get a lot of people this week. I’m trying to minimize my mistakes on the greens. They are very tough. I have to watch my speed this week. You can’t get frustrated even if you miss a shorter putt.

“Last year, I was great on these greens. I remember a couple years when I four-putted on these greens. As hard as it is, I have to keep saying ‘It wasn’t you who four-putted … I think it was the greens.’

“I have to try to be patient even if it’s not going well. I just have to try to have the right speed … concentrate on getting the speed right so the next putt is not a problem. That strategy worked well last year.”

Park was not the only entrant discussing poa and the Aviara greens.

Said Leona Maguire: “I’ve never been a big fan of poa greens, so that’s going to be a challenge for me this week, to sort of be patient and trust my lines. The greens aren’t incredibly fast, but they are sneaky fast above the pins.”

Said Denmark’s Nanna Koerstz Madsen, who already has an LPGA win this season: “The greens are definitely the key here. You don’t really know if it’s going to drop or not. You can hit a good putt and you might be unlucky, get a bad bounce or a bad break. As long as you can remain patient with the greens, that’s a good thing. I’ve had an issue with the greens here before. I’ve actually played some good golf tee-to-green, so I’m hopeful I can go with another mindset on the greens that I have done before. I don’t play much on poa.”

And Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul almost mirrored Park’s thoughts: “It’s true that the greens … it’s a bit tricky. That’s the key this week. Be patient on the greens. Like when you have a good putt, you have a good stroke, but you don’t make it … so it’s not your fault. Sometimes you have to take luck here.”

Park won by five strokes last year over Amy Olson and Lexi Thompson.

“I really like this course, the area,” said Park. “I love the weather. This year in general, I feel like I’ve been striking the ball pretty consistently.”

And despite her reputation — plus the stats to back up the claim — as one of the tour’s top putters ever, Park says she is working to improve her putting game.

“The putts inside 6 feet, that’s where I’m trying to get a little better,” said Park. “I need to make more of the shorter putts to score well.”

As far as putting at Aviara …

“You have to watch out on how you putt on these greens,” said Park. “That’s what it takes on this golf course. Minimize the three putts and the short-putt misses.

“That is the key this week. I’ve been working a lot on the putting green.”

There will be one thing about the 2022 JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol: fans.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, no fans were on hand to see Park win in 2021. And there was no tournament at all in 2020. But fans will return to the par-72, 6,609-yard course this year.

Center is a freelance writer.

JTBC Classic

Thursday-Sunday: Aviara Golf Club, Carlsbad (6,609-yard, par-72 course)

Tickets: Single-day general admission: $20. Four-day general admission: $40. Single-day Clubhouse: $60. Active military and immediate families free with ID. Retired military free with ID. Children under 17 free with ticketed adult. Tickets sold at the gate and online (jtbcclassic.com).

On the air: Golf Channel, Thursday-Friday: 6-8 p.m. (delayed); Saturday-Sunday: 2-5 p.m. (live).