SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – They’ve made history, and they know the challenges and obstacles that must be overcome to do so.
LPGA Hall of Famers watched Inbee Park’s victory Sunday at the U.S. Women’s Open with a special appreciation for what they were seeing.
By joining Babe Zaharias as the only women to win the first three major championships of the year, Park brings a new buzz to the women’s game with her bid to become the first man or woman to win four, and possibly five, professional majors in a single season.
“Just to win one major in your career is a big deal,” Hall of Famer Beth Daniel said. “To win three in a row, that’s an enormous feat. I don’t think people realize the magnitude of what she’s doing.”
Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez was at Sebonack marveling at the history being made.
“To win the first three majors of the year, I never even thought about trying to do that,” Lopez said. “You set majors as a goal, but to win them, three of them in a row, that’s tough. We have some great players and a great tour and so to do that is amazing.”
Hall of Famer Hollis Stacy relished seeing Park’s run bring a focus back on some of the game’s greatest players.
“It’s wonderful to watch history in the making and how it’s brought attention back to what Babe Zaharias and Mickey Wright and other players have done,” Stacy said. “It’s definitely very special.”
Hall of Famer JoAnne Carner was impressed with the sense of peace Park plays with whether she’s making birdies or bogeys.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Carner said. “She doesn’t crack. I don’t know how she holds it together like that. I thought she was folding with those three bogeys in a row on Saturday, but she came right back with two birdies.”
Hall of Famer Carol Mann loved that in Park, too. She believes personalities are factors that help and hinder winning majors in the sense that so many players have to overcome their nature to play their best under pressure. She called Pat Bradley and Patty Sheehan “downhill racers” in how their personalities were intensely wired. Mann respects that they won so many big events because she believes that kind of internal wiring gets in the way of players under pressure. Mann thinks Park’s even-keel emotional state gives her an advantage.
“I think she has less of herself to overcome,” Mann said. “She is one of those players who seems to play with a heart that beats 40 or 50 times a minute.”
Daniel also likes the cool control Park exhibits and believes it makes her more formidable.
“I don’t think people truly appreciate the pressure a player is under trying to win a major championship,” Daniel said. “Inbee handles that so well, but she can’t be that way inside. You have to be churning a little bit. There are just too many things happening not to realize the magnitude of what you’re doing.”
But that only makes Daniel appreciate Park’s emotional control even more.
“I didn’t want my fellow competitors to see how nervous I was,” Daniel said. “You’re calm on the outside, but your stomach is churning. She feels it. Believe me, if you don’t get nervous, you don’t care. But she’s calm on the outside, and this is the image she’s portraying to the world. You don’t want your competition to know you’re nervous. It’s a crack in the armor.”
It wouldn’t have surprised Daniel to hear Inbee Park’s mother on Sunday night reveal that her daughter was nervous and wrestling with doubt on the eve of her U.S. Women’s Open victory and yet Park never gave the world beyond her family a glimpse of it.
“I think it’s incredible the way she’s handling the pressure and handling herself,” Daniel said.
Daniel watched Rolex world No. 1 Park’s grouping with No. 2 Stacy Lewis and No. 3 Suzann Pettersen with special interest over the first two rounds. Daniel respects Lewis’ game and knows it well from their South Florida ties. She said she could see the impact Park’s play had on her playing partners in that special pairing. Park finished the first two rounds 12 shots ahead of Lewis and 19 ahead of Pettersen.
“She pretty much demoralized them,” Daniel said. “Inbee was making everything with her putter. You could see the effect that had on Stacy in her body language. It was like, `How is she making all these putts and I’m not?’
“People get on a roll and play with confidence. Inbee is playing with so much confidence. I don’t think she thinks anyone can beat her. Without talking to her, I would think her confidence has to be as high as it’s ever been.”
Nobody knows how long Park can be this dominant, but the curiosity is good for the women's game.
“People get in a stretches of playing so well,” Daniel said. “Sometimes it lasts years, sometimes it lasts a couple weeks. When you’re in that place, you can make mistakes and they don’t bother you. You know it’s going to turn around. It’s the greatest feeling in sports, but you can’t over think it. If you do, you can lose it.”
Golf’s Hall of Famers will be closely watching to see how long Park can ride this history-making run.