ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Inbee Park’s run at history was a little more dizzying than she would have liked in Thursday’s start of the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
“It felt like a roller coaster,” Park said after opening with a 3-under-par 69 that she knows was close to being so much better.
Through the highs and lows, Park fashioned a solid start in her quest to become the first man or woman to win four professional major championships in a single season. The enchanting possibility that another grand piece of history could be made on the Old Course this weekend is very much in play.
“Very good on the front nine, and I was a little bit shaky on the back nine,” Park said.
A round of seven birdies, a double bogey and two bogeys included a wildly impressive start before careening into some trouble and then ending with a birdie.
“A little bit disappointing,” Park said of her trouble on the back nine. “But I’m glad that I’ve done this in the first round instead of the final round. I’m looking to improve the next three days.”
Aware of how much hangs in the balance, Parks confessed she was nervous teeing off to start the event.
You wouldn’t have known it.
In a light drizzle beneath a slate gray sky, under the venerable Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews clubhouse, Park striped her first drive down the middle and then carved a 9-iron to 10 feet to open with a birdie.
Known for her putting prowess, Park didn’t disappoint at the start, putting on a clinic over the first 10 holes. She made a 30-footer at the third hole, a 20-footer at the fourth, a 40-footer at the sixth, a 20-footer at the eighth and a 5-footer at the 10th. They were all for birdies as she raced to the top of leaderboard at 6 under.
“I was thinking, `Why can’t I make putts like that?’” said Jodi Ewart Shadoff, who played alongside Park. “She’s such a good putter, you just expect she’s going to hole everything.”
Park also made a good putt at the 12th, holing a 15-footer for par, but her errant drive there actually led to her five-hole swoon. Park’s tee shot sailed right, into the fescue, and the waywardness of it bothered her.
“I think that tee shot just spooked her a little bit, just with her swing,” said Brad Beecher, her caddie. “And then she was just trying to find it coming in.”
While Park was her typically unaffected self, reacting the same to good and bad shots alike, she was slightly rattled by the miss at the 12th. After that swing, she stepped to the side, choking up on her driver and rehearsing her take away and the start of her downswing. She began rehearsing it like a drill, over and over between shots through the next few holes. You could see her searching and sense the subtle frustration in that.
There were also errant drives with blocks to the right at the 13th and 15th holes. She missed the fairway again at the 16th, this time pulling her shot left, into the fescue.
After winning the U.S. Women’s Open in June, Park wasn’t pleased with her ball striking, tying for 14th at the Manulife Financial Classic and then tying for 33rd at the Marathon Classic.
“I thought I fixed all my problems coming into this week,” Park said. “I was hitting it so good in the practice round. I didn’t really miss any shots. I thought I was really prepared, but those couple bad shots really shocked me. I really wanted to fix them right away, and couldn’t really concentrate on the greens after I hit those shots.”
Park had rare back-to-back three-putts at the 16th and 17th holes after putting herself in difficult positions. She said she couldn’t remember the last time she had three-putts on consecutive holes.
“I really lost my concentration in the middle of the round,” Park said. “I really just wanted to fix the swing.”
At the 16th, Park got herself into one of those nasty, deep pot bunkers left of the green. Her ball was just a couple feet from the steep, riveted bunker face. Though she wanted to try a great escape, she realized the risk, and, instead, played out sideways, away from the hole, leaving herself an impossible 90-foot putt for par. It was startling seeing her leave that putt 20 feet short and then make double bogey.
Beecher said Park continues to impress him with the way she is handling the pressure to make history.
“She appeared fine, like it was just another day,” Beecher said of Park’s stroll to the first tee. “That’s what we said at the U.S. Open. Treat it as just another tournament day: `Let’s get out and give it our best.’”
The game plan continues to give her a shot at the grandest feat in the game’s history.