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With history in sight, Park keeps her cool

Tuesday - 7/30/2013, 6:09pm  ET

DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) -- Inbee Park once felt she could walk down the streets of Seoul as the No. 1 player in women's golf without being recognized.

That was two months ago.

Now she can't even make it through a toll booth.

The week before she set out to make history at St. Andrews, the 25-year-old Park went home to South Korea to visit family and friends. She was surprised by the number of people who met her at the airport, and who looked her way when she was out in public dressed in regular clothes.

"I was driving by the toll gate and some lady was giving me a toll ticket and she was like, 'Oh, are you Inbee Park?' And she was stopping my car," Park said Tuesday. "So there was a lot of episodes there. It's cool to be recognized and to have a lot of fans. And I think that really helps me."

It helps to be on the verge of doing something no other golfer in this Royal & Ancient game has ever achieved.

Slam or not, Park has a shot at something grand.

On an Old Course that even in sunshine is dripping with history, she goes after an unprecedented fourth straight major this year at the Women's British Open. Park is the heavy favorite at St. Andrews, much like Tiger Woods when he won on the Old Course in 2000 to complete the career Grand Slam.

The gray old town doesn't have the same energy level as when a claret jug is on offer, though Park's name is part of every conversation. Woods (2000-01) and Mickey Wright (1961-62) are the only players to have won four straight professional majors, though never in the same calendar year. Woods was the last player to win three straight majors in a single season.

The debate is whether to call it a Grand Slam if Park were to win. The LPGA Tour added a fifth major this year, the Evian Championship in France. The modern version of a Grand Slam is about four majors. The original version of the Grand Slam -- from bridge -- is about winning them all.

It's a nice problem to have, and it really doesn't need any definition except to note that it has never been done.

"If it could happen, it's something that I will never forget," Park said. "My name will be in the history of golf forever, even after I die."

What's amazing is how quickly Park reached this point.

Turn back the calendar two months, and Park already was satisfied with her season. She won the first LPGA Tour major of the year at Kraft Nabisco Championship, which helped her to regain her spot at No. 1 in the world ranking.

But the dominant player of her sport?

She sure didn't look that way, especially if anyone happened to be watching a stretch of holes at the Bahamas Classic. On a 145-yard hole, her tee shot was 10 yards short and 20 yards wide of the green. On the next hole, a longer par 3 over a pond and into the breeze, Park fanned a 4-iron so badly that it landed in the middle of the lake. Her next tee shot splashed down closer to the bank -- still some 30 yards short of the pin -- and she eventually made a 9.

She missed the cut. She didn't break par in any round of her next tournament and finished middle of the pack.

"I was really struggling with the swing that week," Park said. "I was trying different things on the golf course. After that, I found the right swing."

Since then?

Park looks to be somewhere between unstoppable and unbeatable.

She won the LPGA Championship in a playoff over Catriona Matthew, and then became made it three straight majors by making the toughest test in golf look like a breeze in her U.S. Women's Open victory at Sebonack Golf Club.

In technical terms, she is driving the ball straighter and her putting stroke is among the purest in women's golf. What sets her apart is a calm demeanor and a unique outlook for someone who has no reason to think she can't win every time she tees it up.

The higher the pressure, the lower her expectations. That's the formula she took to the U.S. Women's Open.

"I kept thinking it's OK if I don't win," she said. "I've already won five times, and just wanting more is wanting too much."

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