No. 1 ranking fuels Park's confidence

By Randall MellJuly 8, 2015, 1:37 pm

LANCASTER, Pa. – Familiarity breeds ... comfort?

That’s the way it is for Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park.

Park says being No. 1 for 76 weeks over the last three seasons and being in the hunt in so many major championships over that span are making her a lot more comfortable under pressure.

She arrived at the U.S. Women’s Open this week as the clear betting favorite with SkyBet setting the odds on her at 13/2. Lydia Ko and Stacy Lewis are next at 11/1.

Park is blazing a history-making trail in majors these days, and she’ll be looking to continue it at Lancaster Country Club, where the difficult green complexes, with their humps and swales, make even short putts adventurous. As one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, that should suit Park well.

Park, 26, is looking to win back-to-back majors after claiming the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship a month ago. It was her fifth major championship triumph over the last 12 majors played. She’s going for her seventh major championship title overall, a feat that would move her into a tie for seventh on the all-time list behind only Patty Berg (15), Mickey Wright (13), Louise Suggs (11), Annika Sorenstam (10), Babe Zaharias (10) and Betsy Rawls (8).

Back as a 19-year-old, Park made her first mark on the professional game in a major. She won the U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen, her first victory as a pro. She won her second U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack two years ago, back when she won the first three majors of that year, a feat nobody had achieved since Zaharias in 1950.

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“I am good at the tough golf courses,” Park said. “I am good under pressure. I just try to keep talking to myself that way, to try to give myself confidence coming into the major championships. I think that's how it's really worked the last few years. And I try to just keep that going.”

Park’s overall major championship record is impressive. In 35 majors played as a pro, she has finished in the top 10 in 19 of them. She has missed the cut in just one.

“I think it's so much fun being in contention in major championships, in the final rounds, when you play for the trophy,” she said. “I just had so much fun at KPMG, where I knew I had the lead in the final round, and I never really let it go.”

Park didn’t make a bogey over the final 56 holes in winning the KPMG Women’s PGA at Westchester Country Club.

Park is in her third reign at No. 1. She has learned to be comfortable with the extra scrutiny that comes with it.

“When I first became the No. 1 player in the world, I felt a lot more pressure,” Park said. “I felt like I have to show something to other people, that I'm the No. 1 player. I felt a little bit like maybe I'm not in a good spot. I felt more comfortable in the No. 2 spot. The second time I was there, I felt a little more comfortable, and I thought maybe I can probably treat this somewhat similar to No. 1, 2 and 3. But now, it's my third time being here, and I don't feel that much pressure anymore.

“I feel like No. 1 or 2, what's the difference? I'm just playing good golf. I don't need to show anybody anything. I just try to play my own golf and just not try to do something for other people. The more that I experience it, you're just another golfer." 

For Park, there were lessons in what she was feeling as she gained and lost the No. 1 ranking.

“The No. 1 spot, there's nowhere else to go but down,” she said. “So, you're going to come down at some point. But you don't have to be scared to go down, I don't think. That's the only place you can go. What you're trying to do is just stay there as long as you can. I'll have a time where I'm going to go down, as well. I'm just not going to be scared for that. I'm just going to try to enjoy while I'm here.”

Park actually learned to deal with pressure when she wasn’t playing well. Brad Beecher, her long-time caddie, saw that in the struggles Park endured trying to live up to expectations after she won her first major in 2008. Park had a top-10 finish the week after her U.S. Women’s Open victory at Interlachen and then went 14 months without another top-10.

The scrutiny on Park in that swoon was intense back in her South Korean homeland.

“She took that pretty hard,” Beecher said. “That stretch, there was just so much pressure on her, but she picked herself back up.”

Beecher says Park’s demeanor in majors is a vital part of what makes her so good in them.

“The way she handles herself, the way she stays so level, there’s a charisma in that,” Beecher said. “No matter what happens, she’s the same.”

While Park is renowned for her putting, she has become one of the most consistent ball strikers in the women’s game.

“Three years ago, it seemed like she was just riding her putter,” Stacy Lewis said. “That was pretty obvious. She was making putts from everywhere. Over the last year, I don’t think her putting has been as good, but her ball-striking has gotten better. She gets hot with her putter now, with her good ball-striking, it’s a pretty deadly combination.”

Park was 16th on tour in hitting greens in regulation when she won three majors in 2013. She’s fifth in GIR this year.

Park is coming off a missed cut in her last start at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, but she wasn’t overly concerned. It was her first missed cut in 27 starts.

“My ball striking was still great,” Park said. “I putted really badly two weeks ago. That definitely gave me somewhat of a wake-up, because I haven't really had a bad tournament or a really bad week this year. That definitely made me practice harder and gave me a lot more motivation coming into this week. So hopefully that's going to work nicely playing this week.”

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.