There is nonchalance to Inbee Park that allows her accomplishments to tiptoe into the room almost unnoticed. Never was that more true than in 2013 when she arrived at St. Andrews for the Ricoh Women’s British Open, quietly on the cusp of history. She had already written her name next to Zaharias, Wright, Bradley, Hogan and Woods as the only players to win three professional majors in the same year. And now she was trying to stand alone with four. Finally, people had taken notice.
That her shot at the Grand Slam came at the home of golf was fitting. What better place to make history than where the game started. And the Old Course is a lot like Park. The ancient links is both royal and unassuming, a course where people crave a tee time and few see the inside of the clubhouse, yet a place where families wander across the first and 18th fairway on their way to the beach, following the footsteps of their ancestors across Grannie Clark’s Wynd.
Park won the 2013 ANA Inspiration by four strokes, gutted out a three-hole sudden death victory over Catriona Matthew at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship then took the U.S. Women’s Open by four. Suddenly, this shy woman from South Korea was at the center of media attention, on a quest to make history. With no intention of doing so, she had placed women’s golf on the front page and made it the lead story of TV news.
Five years later, Park better understands her achievement and appreciates how she might approach it differently. The entire golf community better grasps the history she made in 2013.
“I would love to be in that situation again,” Park says now. “I played under a lot of pressure in the previous years, but definitely 2013 was the most pressure I've felt, having to win three majors in a row. I really feel like I am a lot more experienced than I was back then, and if I am in the same situation, I can't say I'm going to do better but I can say that I will be a little bit more enjoyable.”
A bit of bad luck and an emotional gas tank on empty did Park in. After playing the first 10 holes six under par and becoming a Twitter sensation since her round was not on TV, Park made it home in 69, three off the lead. But on Friday, she got the bad end of the draw and played in the worst of the wind, shooting 73 and entered the weekend eight strokes behind.
Conditions were so bad Saturday – gusts hit 40 mph – play was stopped with only nine players completing their round because balls were moving on the greens. Forced to finish her third round and final round on Sunday, an exhausted Park closed 74-78 to be T-42.
“I feel like I have relief now,” she said when the chase ended. “I really enjoyed this week, every moment that I was here. But it is tough to be in the center of everything for a week, and I feel exhausted a little bit. Unless I win four majors in a row, I think I will always remember this moment.”
Part of what Park has learned is how to better manage her time to stay both physically healthy and mentally fresh. And she's learned how to better balance her life.
From 2007 through 2015, Park averaged 24 LPGA events a year, as well as playing a fairly full schedule in Japan for several years. In 2016, in part because of injuries and the Olympics, where she won gold, Inbee played only 10 times, following that with 15 starts in 2017. This year, she’s played 10 LPGA events and none since missing the cut at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship on June 29.
“I definitely learned an expensive lesson the last couple years, just saying that I just can't play every week now,” said Park, now 30. “A couple of injuries that I had the last couple of years really got me a little bit more worried and a little bit more cautious of what I play. I just want to be not pushing myself so hard so I'm just ready to play every week.”
A key for Park was has been combining golf and her private life and finding safe havens in both. Her caddie since 2007 has been Bradley Beecher, an Australian in whom she places complete faith. Her coach since 2011 is Gi Hyeob Nam, a former Korean tour player. They started dating in 2008 and in 2014 he became her husband.
“I really just feel like I found a better balance of the life and the golf together this year definitely because I am enjoying myself more out on the golf course,” Park says. “A little bit less stressed and probably more enjoyable than any other years.”
Park, who won the Bank of Hope Founder’s Cup in March, last captured a major at the 2015 Ricoh Women’s British Open. She's coming off her fourth stint at No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, she was replaced on Monday by Ariya Jutanugarn, and showing a resiliency she’s learned the hard way.
“She lost a lot of confidence after she won the [2008 U.S. Women’s] Open,” says Beecher. “There was a lot of pressure on her. But after the 2009 season, she went to Q school in Japan. That was a great move. She won twice in 2010, and she started to get her confidence.”
As she heads to Royal Lytham & St Annes for this year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open, Park is not chasing history. But she is still chasing glory. Relaxed and refreshed, she’s ready to pursue major number eight.