Inbee Park Seeks Third Consecutive Major Victory at the U.S. Women’s Open conducted by the USGA
Plenty of Storylines at Third Major of the 2013 LPGA season
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Inbee Park has the opportunity this week to do what only one player in LPGA history has accomplished – win the first three majors in a season.
Babe Zaharias is currently the only LPGA player to accomplish the feat, having won all three majors in 1950 (the Titleholders Championship, Women’s Western Open and U.S. Women’s Open). But after winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April and the Wegmans LPGA Championship earlier this month, Park will try to become the first LPGA player in the modern era to capture three straight major titles to begin a season when she tees it up at the Sebonack Golf Club on Thursday.
“This is the best I'm playing in my career so far,” Park said. “I'm trying to keep this going.”
The LPGA hits the midpoint of its season this week at the U.S. Women’s Open conducted by the USGA and it has already been quite a year for Park in 2013. A win this week would be just the latest amazing feat for the 24-year-old South Korean. She has five victories so far this year, including two major titles. She took over the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Rankings from American Stacy Lewis following her victory at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in early April. Park’s impressive play, however, extends back to last season as she’s won seven times in her last 23 LPGA starts and has eight additional top-10 appearances over that span.
Park’s dominance of the LPGA Tour in recent months has drawn comparisons to Yani Tseng’s impressive stretch during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. It has also been asked whether Park could be on track to replicate the success of players like Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, who were formidable presences atop the women’s game for years at a time.
“I really admire them, where they were positioned, how they handled that kind of pressure,” Park said. “I think they've done such a great job of handling that pressure and playing under the pressure. I think it's something that's very good.
“I'm trying to do that,” she added of replicating the success of Sorenstam and Ochoa. “It's not the easiest thing. I've got to do a lot of things on the golf course, off the golf course that is a bit different to things that I've done before. A lot more pressure is on me, but this is somewhere that I've always wanted to come. Yeah, I'm trying to enjoy where I am and trying to keep this going as long as I can.”
Park, who won the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at the age of 19, will try for not only her third straight major title this week but also her third straight victory as well. She has won the last two tournaments on the LPGA Tour, the Wegmans LPGA Championship and the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. Only one player in LPGA history has captured the U.S. Women’s Open after having won the previous two events on the schedule. That player was Mickey Wright in 1964.
“It's frustrating for the rest of us, that's for sure,” Lewis said of Park’s recent dominance on the LPGA Tour. “I know people like to see somebody make history and do all of that, but for players it's frustrating to see someone sit there and win week after week after week. But she's making good putts and she's steady. Every time I feel like she may have an okay round and then the next day she's up there on the leaderboard again.
“She's just always there, always giving herself a chance, and nothing really seemed to faze her. That's the big thing. She just makes putt after putt after putt, and she's there at the end of the day.”
The last player to win three consecutive tournaments on the LPGA Tour was Lorena Ochoa, who won four-in-a-row in 2008. LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame member Nancy Lopez holds the LPGA record with five consecutive victories in tournaments participated in 1978. Annika Sorenstam also accomplished the feat across two season in 2004-05.
Park put herself is esteemed company with a victory at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, becoming just the seventh player in LPGA history to win the first two majors of the season. She joined Zaharias, Patty Berg, Mickey Wright, Sandra Haynie, Pat Bradley and Annika Sorenstam in the accomplishment.
Park, who is set to turn 25 on July 12, has an opportunity to become the youngest LPGA player to complete the Career Grand Slam with a victory at the RICOH Women’s British Open or the Evian Championship – the LPGA’s newly minted fifth major – later this summer.
Changing the tide? Stacy Lewis is just one of the Americans in the field this week who will be trying to end the drought of major championship victories for the red, white and blue. There have been nine consecutive non-American winners in the LPGA majors, with the last American winner being Lewis at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship.
But while there have been a lack of American winners in the majors, Lewis said that she doesn’t think that means American golf is on a downward track.
“I honestly feel like we're going in the right direction,” Lewis said. “We're having a lot of young talents getting some experience of being in those final groups. Jessica Korda has played well this year, Lizette Salas lost in the playoffs. So they're getting what it feels like to be in those final groups, and that's what it takes to really win majors and move up the rankings is to get experience in those final groups. So they're doing that.“They're fiery and they're young, so I'm excited about it. We have the Solheim Cup in a couple of months, and it's, I think we're going into a good time. We have a good mix of veterans, and we have some young ones coming up too.”
Inside look? Paula Creamer received an email recently and admitted that when she first opened it, she thought it was a joke. Tom Doak, who co-designed Sebonack Golf Club with Jack Nicklaus, had sent Creamer a note asking if he could walk the golf course with her during a practice round before this week’s U.S. Women’s Open. Of course Creamer jumped at the opportunity.
“I couldn't say thank you enough, having the architect come out there and walk with you and see you hit shots and just pick his brain,” said Creamer. “He's one of the nicest gentlemen I think I've ever met, very humble in what he has done. When I asked a question, he was right there. But he was very ‑‑ just let me do my thing, and when I needed it, he was there. I definitely have taken that in and appreciate him taking the time to come out there and walk with me.”
Creamer has made a name for herself at the U.S. Women’s Open. Not only did she capture her first major title at the event in 2010, she has finished inside the top 20 in every U.S. Women’s Open since 2004. That includes four top-10 finishes in the past five years.
So what is it about this major that seems to bring out the best in Creamer?
“I try to bring my best game possible,” Creamer said. “I grind it out so much more, not intentionally, but it's ‑‑ like I said, it means so much. Not that I don't do that every week, but it's kind of like a Solheim in my eyes. It's just there is something about when you walk out of the clubhouse that feeling, the fans, you know that the golf course is going to be a great test of golf.”
To practice or not to practice? A number of LPGA players ventured out to Southampton, N.Y. in recent months to get a look at Sebonack Golf Club and get a couple practice rounds in before this week’s major championship.
“I came here a couple weeks earlier to play two practice rounds here, and I think I love this golf course,” said Yani Tseng. “As soon as I got here, I saw the beautiful view and everything here, I feel very relaxed here. And the golf course is very tough, the greens are very tricky. I always love to play on kind of like links golf course, and I think this course just makes you think more and it can be a very, very good challenge. You might hit a good shot and end in a bad place or you might hit a bad shot in a good place. You never know. It's the U.S. Open, you need to be very patient on this golf course. I'm very excited and looking forward to Thursday.”
But not all players feel that getting an early look at the golf course is a good thing.
“I played Sebonack two years ago in a charity event. But, I don't know, I've never liked coming in early to play a U.S. Open course ahead of time, because I feel like the conditions can change a lot in that couple of weeks before, so I've never been one to do that,” Stacy Lewis said. “I like to just get here the week before and learn the golf course.
We get three practice rounds, so I think you have plenty of time to learn the course. I think it's going to be a good test this week though.”
2008 U.S. Women’s Open champion Inbee Park also subscribes to the “less is more” theory in terms of seeing the course ahead of time. She said she tried it only once back in 2009, the year after she won the title, and she finished T26.
“I have tried coming to the course, the Women's Open course before, and I've only done that once before,” said Park. “That was my worse finish, so I just tried to show up for the week and have a couple of practice rounds. Just try to get to know the course when I'm here.”
Home sweet home: Inbee Park celebrated her second major victory of the 2013 season in a unique way – by spending a week at the Orlando, Fla. home of her good friend, Na Yeon Choi.
In the week between the Wegmans LPGA Championship and last week’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, Park traveled to Florida and spent time with Choi doing everything together from cooking Korean food to competing in other sports such as tennis and bowling.
While the two players are very good friends, they are also longtime competitors on the golf course and among the best in women’s golf. So Choi, who is the defending champion this week at the U.S. Women’s Open, had a laugh when asked who was better when the two tried different sports.
“That was my second time to play tennis, but I think I'm better than her (laughing),” Choi said.
Quotable No. 1: “I'm very happy to see her dominate. I just feel like every time after the tournament me and my caddie are talking, oh, Inbee won again. Oh, Inbee's on top of the leaderboard again. I think that's how I feel when I play my best that people are talking that way about me too. So it's kind of very funny. “ -- Yani Tseng on Inbee Park’s success.
Quotable No. 2: “So I don't know, maybe first of all I have to look for some fiancee, then maybe I can have good results too (laughing).” – Na Yeon Choi on what’s been the difference for Inbee Park
Of Note: 17-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn withdrew from the U.S. Women’s Open on Tuesday due to an injured shoulder. Jutanugarn suffered the injury during a practice round at the Wegmans LPGA Championship earlier this month. Amateur Mikayla Harmon replaced Jutanugarn in this week’s field.