There is an ease to Inbee Park that lulls you to sleep. Her body language is so composed and so consistent, it tells you nothing about the shot she just hit. But for being one of the best putters on any tour, there is nothing about her game that grabs you – until she hoists yet another trophy. Truly, Inbee comes into the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship as an under-appreciated superstar, except among her peers.
Park doesn’t overpower golf courses, she outmaneuvers them and outlasts opponents, playing mistake-free until others crack. Inbee puts the ball in play, puts it on the green and then makes putts. That has made her one of the best players of her generation. And now she has a schedule designed to keep her physically healthy, emotionally happy and intensely competitive. That she flies under the radar is a tribute to her tranquility.
“I definitely learned an expensive lesson the last couple years,” she said Wednesday at the KPMG. “A couple of injuries that I had 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.”
In 2016, Park played only 10 LPGA events because of an injury to her left thumb. Last year, back issues limited her to 15. This year Park, who played 25 times in 2015, has played only nine of the 17 tournaments, winning the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and finishing second at the ANA Inspiration after an eight-hole playoff with Pernilla Lindberg.
“I really feel like I have scheduled this year very well because I have been feeling very healthy,” Park said. “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, 30 on July 12, has 19 LPGA wins, including seven majors, tying her for seventh all-time with Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb. She qualified for the LPGA Hall of Fame at the 2016 Women’s PGA, at 27 becoming the youngest to gain entry. And she is the only person to reach No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings four times. She has now held the top spot since April 23 and at 104 total weeks is fourth all-time behind Lorena Ochoa (158), Yani Tseng (109) and Lydia Ko (104).
Park’s last major victory was the 2015 Ricoh Women’s British Open, but she skipped three majors in 2016, in part so she could get healthy for the Olympics, where she won gold, and missed a major last year. The reduced schedule has recharged her batteries and probably made her dominance less noticeable.
“A little bit less stressed and probably more enjoyable than any other years,” she says. “Except, you know, my [Las Vegas] house was broken into last week, so I've been really stressing about that since the last four days, since talking to police, talking to insurance and trying to figure out. This is the life we get on the road,” she says, adding that her trophies are safely in Korea.
Even as she recounted the break-in, Park did so with a smile and a shrug, raising the question: Is she really that under control or does the calm demeanor mask inner turmoil.
“I really look relaxed out on the golf course, but I really am not,” she says. “I try to be relaxed, but inside I am always fighting and trying to play some good golf. You're trying to be competitive and enjoy it at the same time, so that's really hard to balance.”
If there is an inner battle raging, she has her LPGA colleagues fooled. “I mean, she’s just chill, like so chill,” says defending KPMG champion Danielle Kang, who will play with Park the first two rounds. “I think she’s chill on and off the golf course, though.”
Park has proven she can win anywhere, capturing the KPMG three years in a row on three different courses. She’s also won the U.S. Women’s Open twice and the ANA Inspiration and Ricoh Women’s British Open once. A win at the Evian Championship would join her with Webb as the only players to win five different majors. And a win this week would tie Park with Mickey Wright as the only players to win the Women’s PGA four times.
“I really thought that this golf course was a great setup for me and for everyone out here because it's a true major championship golf course setting,” she said. “Every shot needs to be a perfect shot, especially Nos. 16, 17 and 18. Even par all week is going to be a very good score. Tough finishing holes is always great in a major championship. I really love this golf course, how it's set up.”
Those are not the words the other 155 players want to hear. A rested, injury-free Park on a golf course she loves is a formidable foe, no matter how chill she looks. Or rather, maybe precisely because of how chill she looks. Don’t let those looks be deceiving. This is a player who knows how to win.