Park setting new standard on course and off

By Randall MellAugust 22, 2016, 11:04 pm

Olympic gold medal winner Inbee Park may never be as beloved in South Korea as Se Ri Pak, but Park is revered in new ways now.

While Park was one of “Se Ri’s kids,” inspired by Pak’s iconic U.S. Women’s Open victory at Blackwolf Run 18 years ago, Park is making her mark in a way that radically departs from Pak, in a way that ought to especially please Pak.

In some ways, Park is breaking the Korean mold.

Pak, 38, will always be embraced as the pioneer who paved the way for South Korea as a force in women’s golf, as the inspiration to so many young girls who wanted to grow up to be just like Se Ri.

Pak will always be beloved in ways no other player will in South Korea, because Pak was the original, and because her excellence radiated beyond golf in South Korean culture. Pak’s breakthrough came with her homeland reeling in hard times. She became a symbol of excellence beyond sport, an example of how determination and hard work can overcome the steepest odds as Pak was the only Korean playing the LPGA when she broke through at Blackwolf Run.

“The Korean economy at the time was very, very bad,” said Ho Jun Sung, a reporter for Korea’s JTBC Golf. “Politicians and media used Se Ri’s win as motivation for the country.”

The timing of Pak’s victory lifted more than golf in Korea. She was a beacon of hope in sport, commerce and industry alike.

Sean Pyun, the LPGA’s managing director of international business affairs, said his Korean parents still have a photograph of Pak in their living room.

“I don’t think they have a photograph of me in there,” he cracked.

When Pak, 38, announced earlier this spring that she was retiring, she said she was proud of her legacy, of the excellence she inspired. But she also said she lives with regrets. She regrets the monster she created back home, the monster ambition, the monster expectation and the singular monster focus that drove young prodigies to spend sun up to sundown on driving ranges.

Pak said that singular focus left her feeling like an incomplete person, and she doesn’t want young South Koreans missing out on a larger life the way she felt she missed out.

“I took care of my golf,” Pak told back in the spring, when she announced her retirement. “I didn’t take care of myself.”

It’s why Pak is dedicating her retirement years to opening a school to train athletes for more than sport. She wants to train hearts, minds and souls, too.

While there’s rampant speculation over whether Park will retire sooner rather than later – she says she has no plans – Inbee is living the larger life Pak wants young South Koreans to live. Inbee is even talking about wanting to start a family within the next couple years.

Inbee is a bit of an anomaly among South Korean women in the way she approaches the game. Park doesn’t hit golf balls until her fingers blister. She doesn’t spend sunrise to sunset on the range. She probably spends less time on the range than any other South Korean playing the LPGA today.

“When Inbee was No. 1 in the world, I used to joke with her,” said 2011 U.S. Women’s Open champion So Yeon Ryu, one of Park’s closest friends on tour. “I used to tell her, `Inbee, you may be No. 1 in the world rankings but if they calculated that based on time spent practicing, you would be last in the rankings.’”

Brad Beecher, Park’s caddie, said it’s a matter of Inbee being so smart and efficient in her work.

“Most Koreans can’t leave the course after a round without going back to the range to practice,” Beecher said. “But if there’s nothing she needs to work on, Inbee’s out of there.”

When Park won the Ricoh Women’s British Open last year, Beecher said there was a bit of mystery to Inbee’s game that the younger Koreans were trying to crack. They were curious about what exactly was separating her from the rest of the richly talented Korean contingent.

“The other coaches and fathers, they’re watching her, to relay it to their daughters,” Beecher said at the time. “You’ll spot them out there watching Inbee on tournament days. They aren’t even watching their own daughters.”

Park’s break from the pack in routines and habits has helped her strike a balance in her life that other players envy.

Park married her swing coach, Gi Hyeob Nam, almost two years ago.

“When I hang out with Inbee and her husband, I’m jealous,” Ryu said. “They do everything together.

“They like to play computer games together on their phones. They cook together. If she’s cooking, he’s the helper. If he’s cooking, she’s the helper. They are a very happy couple.”

Stacy Lewis saw the importance of that balance in Park’s life back when Park was making her run at the Grand Slam, when Park won the first three majors of the year in ’13. That was back when Nam was still Park’s fiancé.

“You see Inbee and her fiancé when they are traveling, and they’re always holding hands walking in the airport,” Lewis said back then. “You can tell she’s very happy in her life and happy with her game. More than anything, that’s what is showing in her life.”

Park began working with Nam as her swing coach in 2011. They changed her swing.

“Inbee’s game went to another level,” Ryu said. “She was upgraded.”

Park has had a great short game for a long time, in part because she was more crooked as a ball striker than she liked growing up. She had to putt well to compete when she was younger.

“My ball striking improved probably 300 percent,” Park said of the changes her husband made to her game.

Ryu believes Nam is the big reason Park’s practice is less consuming than most players, and that Park is more efficient in her work.

“Nam is always there when Inbee practices,” Ryu said. “He knows her swing so well and can see things. She can fix things so quickly. She can get as much done in 30 minutes as other players get done in three hours.

“When I joke with Inbee about her practice time, she always tells me, `When I was young, I practiced so much, I don’t have to practice as much now.’”

Ryu says Nam is a great match for Park on and off the course.

“The way he talks to her, he’s so optimistic,” Ryu said. “You can see how relaxed he makes her.”

Na Yeon Choi, the 2012 U.S. Women’s champ and also friend to Park, sees what Ryu sees.

“He isn’t just a husband and coach to Inbee,” Choi said. “He’s a great friend to her, a great supporter.”

What Ryu and Choi see is a balance in Park’s life that Pak would love other South Koreans to emulate.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.