Inbee Park begins her quest for history
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — On a gray morning at the home of golf, Inbee Park set off on her bid to make history Thursday in the Women’s British Open.
The 25-year-old from South Korea already has won three majors this year. She is trying to become the first golfer, male or female, to win four in one season.
It was only fitting that Park, dressed in a black rain suit, hit her opening tee shot in front of the Royal & Ancient clubhouse at St. Andrews. With a slow, measured back swing, she drilled a low tee shot toward the Swilcan Bridge on the left side of the fairway. It’s the hardest fairway to miss in golf.
The challenge is the Old Course over the next four days, not to mention dozens of players who are trying to stop this amazing run even though they appreciate what Park has done.
“I’d love to be the spoiler,” Stacy Lewis said.
It was unusual for Park to have such an early tee time — 7:03 a.m. in Scotland — for such a big moment. Then again, it was just after 3 p.m. in Seoul. With heavy air and a light rain, there were only about 50 fans holding umbrellas behind the tee and about 20 yards down the right side to watch her tee off.
Park wasted no time getting off to a great start.
She holed a 7-foot birdie putt on the opening hole and then showed why she’s considered among the best putters in women’s golf. With perfect pace, her 30-foot birdie putt dropped into the center of the cup on No. 3 and she added an 18-foot birdie putt on the next hole after an approach that gave her a flat line between two ridges.
On the sixth, Park made a putt from 35 feet for another birdie. She rolled in an 18-footer on the eighth hole, and she went to 6 under par through 10 holes with a 5-foot birdie putt.
Even before lunch on Thursday, she was giving this tournament a feeling of inevitability.
With a light rain and hardly any wind, conditions were perfect for scoring. Among other early starters, Brittany Lincicome was 3 under through eight holes and Rikako Morita was 2 under through eight. Ai Miyazato was 2 under through six. Defending champion Jiyai Shin wasn’t teeing off till just before noon.
Arnold Palmer had won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960 and was on his way to the British Open — held at St. Andrews that year — when he created the idea of a modern Grand Slam comprised of the four professional majors.
Palmer’s dream ended with a runner-up finish. No one has achieved it, male or female. Five players have made it halfway — Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour, Mickey Wright, Pat Bradley and Annika Sorenstam on the LPGA Tour.
No one has come as far as Park, a 25-year-old from South Korea with a pure putting stroke, a sweet smile and an even demeanor.
She has been the talk of the gray, old town this week in the home of golf, whether players and fans have marveled at what she has done in the majors or debated whether it would be a Grand Slam if she were to win this week.
In a peculiar turn of events, the LPGA Tour decided this year to designate the Evian Championship in France as a fifth major. It brings to mind Jeff Sluman a decade ago, when where was chatter about The Players Championship becoming a fifth major in men’s golf.
“When you go to Denny’s and order the Grand Slam breakfast, they don’t give you five things, do they?” Sluman said. “They give you four.”
Denny’s is an American restaurant. The correlation of a Grand Slam and four items is distinctively American — in baseball, it clears the bases and scores four runs.
The Grand Slam in golf was first mentioned in 1930 when Bobby Jones won the four biggest events of his era — the British Open, U.S. Open, British Amateur and U.S. Amateur. The term came from contract bridge — winning all 13 tricks — or a clean sweep.
Slam or not, there is little debate that Park can do something no one else has in the modern game.
“It’s pretty incredible to win the first three,” Woods said Wednesday at the Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio. “And the way she did it ... executing, and it seemed like she just is making everything. ... It’s really neat to see someone out there and doing something that no one has ever done, so that’s pretty cool.”
Karrie Webb posed the question another way while walking the streets of St. Andrews one morning.
“If a guy were to win all four majors, you’d call it the Grand Slam,” Webb said. “If Inbee were to win five majors, would that be the same thing?”
Whatever the case, all eyes were on Park.
She won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in the spring by four shots. She won the LPGA Championship in a playoff over Catriona Matthew. And last month, she sailed to a four-shot victory in the U.S. Women’s Open.
On a course dripping with history, Park has a chance to make more.
“I think she can do it,” said Se Ri Pak, whose win at the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 inspired an entire nation — Park included — of golfers in South Korea. “She’s dominating. Her game is strong. Her confidence is strong. All the attention is on her. Everyone thinks she can do it.”