Inbee Park: 1 more leg for Grand Slam, or is it 2?
The good news for LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan is that his sport is dominating the golf conversation, which is rare.
For the last two days, it seems like every time Whan turns on TV is he hearing about Inbee Park, and that’s how it should be. When she completed a masterful week of putting and precision at Sebonack Golf Club, the 24-year-old South Korean had won the U.S. Women’s Open for her third straight major this year.
Next up is a chance for Park to do what no golfer has done in the history of the royal and ancient game — win four professional majors in a single season. Adding to the moment is the venue — the Women’s British Open will be at St. Andrews, the home of golf. Any other year, the golf world would be buzzing over the prospect of a Grand Slam.
But not this one. Because for such an historic occasion, there is way too much confusion.
It was Whan who decided for noble reasons in 2010 to elevate The Evian Championship in France to major championship status starting in 2013, giving the LPGA Tour five majors for the first time in its 63-year history. Just his luck, it turned out to be the year one of his players had a shot at the Grand Slam.
Except that winning four majors is not really a Grand Slam when there are five on the schedule.
“If you would have asked me as a golf nut about five majors, I would have said, ‘It doesn’t feel right to me,’” Whan said Tuesday morning. “Then you become commissioner of the LPGA Tour. Do you or don’t you? If you don’t ... your job here is to grow the opportunities for women in the game worldwide. We don’t get the exposure anywhere near the men’s game except for three or four times a year, and those are around the majors.
“Jump forward to 2013,” he said. “The fact I can turn on the TV every night and the discussion is on the LPGA and five majors and what does this mean ... the world views this as frustrating. In my own silly world, this is the most attention we’ve had in a long time.”
Golf always has been about four majors, at least it seems that way.
It dates to 1930 when Bobby Jones swept the biggest championships of his era — the British Open, British Amateur, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur. George Trevor of the New York Sun referred to this feat as the “impregnable quadrilateral” of golf, while O.B. Keeler of the Atlanta Journal gave it a name that didn’t require a stiff upper lip. He called it a Grand Slam, a term from contract bridge that meant winning all 13 tricks.
The spirit of that term is a clean sweep, whether it’s four, five or 13.
Arnold Palmer gets credit for creating the modern version of the Grand Slam in 1960 when he won the Masters and U.S. Open and was on his way to play the British Open for the first time. He was traveling with Pittsburgh sports writer Bob Drum, who was lamenting that professional golf had led to the demise of what Jones had achieved in 1930. That’s when Palmer suggested a new Grand Slam by winning the four professional majors.
Comparisons between men’s and women’s golf are never easy, especially in the majors.
The PGA Tour and European Tour don’t own any of the four majors that its players have made famous. The press never bought into the notion of making The Players Championship a fifth major. It was Thomas Bonk of The Los Angeles Times who once wrote that there were “Three Stooges, Twelve Days of Christmas, Seven Dwarfs and four major championships.” Enough said.
The LPGA Tour now has eight majors in its official history, including the du Maurier Classic, the Titleholders and the Western Open. Babe Zaharias is the last player to win three straight majors on the calendar, but that was in 1950 when that’s all there were. There was a five-year stretch in the 1970s when there were only two LPGA majors.
And now there are five?
Women’s golf is not as steeped in tradition. More importantly, its pockets have never been very deep. That’s why the LPGA Championship, which dates to 1955, essentially took over what had been a regular tour event in Rochester, N.Y. The PGA of America doesn’t have a women’s version of a major because, among other reasons, the LPGA Tour has its own teaching and club professional division.
Tradition is the Kraft Nabisco, the only major played on the same course (Rancho Mirage) where the winner jumps into the pond. But it was a regular LPGA Tour event for 11 years before it was designated a major. The Women’s British Open was first played in 1976, became part of the LPGA schedule in 1994 and did not become a major until 2001.
And now the LPGA has The Evian Championship, which only started in 2000 and now is supposed to be a major, right up there with the U.S. Women’s Open. Oddly enough, Park is the defending champion. The field will be similar. The course is the same. And now it’s a major.
“Sometimes it’s hard to fit into the box how we compare history,” Whan said. “I stopped seeing asterisks in LeBron James from playing in the 3-pointer era. You could talk about no-hitters and the DH. I lived in the hockey world, and they make small rules changes. Sports moves forward. The asterisk doesn’t last. It’s the new normal.
“If Inbee wins the British Open and it’s 2011, the media writes a bunch of stories and for the next seven months, ‘See you guys next season.’ Now if she wins, there will be more attention on The Evian Championship than even Evian could ever have fathomed,” he said. “It could be good or it could be bad.”
But at least they’re talking. And for women’s golf, that’s never a bad thing.