Inbee Park has some special company in her return to play this week in Canada.
Record-making history is her traveling companion now, and that’s a great thing for the women’s game.
Park will take the best story going in golf with her when she makes her way around the Grey Silo Golf Course in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, beginning Thursday. She will be going for a fourth consecutive LPGA title when the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic begins, and yet all anyone wants to ask her about is her bid to become the first man or woman to win four professional majors in a season. She lit a fuse on the women’s game winning the U.S. Women’s Open the week before last to join Babe Zaharias (1950) as the only women to win the first three majors of the season.
Park, who celebrates her 25th birthday on Friday, knows she will be asked a lot about her history-making quest leading up to the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St. Andrews in three weeks.
There’s a challenge in the intensity of interest following her.
“I try not to think about it, but I think about 50 people have reminded me,” Park said Tuesday in her pre-tournament news conference in Canada. “I’m very lucky that I get that opportunity, where I have a chance to win four straight majors. All those things are just a gift for me, for playing good golf. Not many people get that opportunity, and I think I’m the lucky one, so I think I should appreciate it.”
Trying to become the first player to win four professional majors in a season is a monumental quest unto itself. Trying to do it at the home of golf, on the Old Course at St. Andrews, is almost fairy tale in its scripting.
“It would mean the world to me,” Park said. “I don’t think I even dreamed that far, to be honest. I never dreamed of doing a calendar Grand Slam ... That’s a tough thing. It would just mean a lot, something very special, doing something nobody’s ever done before.”
After a whirlwind 24-hour tour of major networks in New York following her U.S. Women’s Open triumph, Park flew to Las Vegas, where she was equally busy house hunting with her fiancé/coach in record heat in the desert. She said she finally got to enjoy some down time at the end of last week with no event on the tour schedule.
Park needed the rest with her phone “ringing non-stop.” She said while it was tiring, she has enjoyed fielding all the congratulatory messages, including letters from Arnold Palmer and South Korean president Park Geun-hye. She was impressed at the details in Palmer’s letter, leading her to believe he watched the U.S. Women’s Open closely.
“If I were to play this tournament right after the U.S. Open, I think it would have been a lot tougher for me, just coming off the Sunday win,” Park said. “I feel more relaxed. I feel more refreshed. I feel a lot better this week. I think I’ve calmed down a lot.”
Park is going for her seventh LPGA title this season. She nearly won this event a year ago, losing to Brittany Lang in a playoff. There promises to be tough competition again this week with nine of the top 10 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings in Canada. Of course, Park is used to bouncing back quickly. Dating back to last year’s Manulife LPGA Classic, Park has made 27 LPGA starts and finished T-2 or better a remarkable 14 times. She won eight of those starts.
If Park wins her fourth event in a row this week, she will equal yet another LPGA record, tying Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth and Annika Sorenstam for most consecutive victories in scheduled events. Wright did it twice, in 1962 and again in ’63. Nancy Lopez and Sorenstam share the record for winning the most consecutive LPGA starts with five. The difference in the records is not all five of their starts came in consecutive events on the tour schedule.
Park’s march through history is good for the women’s game, but the attention is something new for Park.
“It was weird getting that kind of attention,” Park said. “It was really different. It was a little fun for me ... I’m trying to get used to it, not totally used to it yet, but still learning.”
Even with all the pressure coming down on her at the U.S. Women’s Open, Park seemed remarkably unaffected. She looks like she plays with an unshakable peace. She says the course is her refuge, and she hopes to keep it that way.
“When I'm inside the golf course, I can't think about too many things,” Park said. “When I'm outside the golf course, whether I want to hear, or I don't want to hear, I'm going to hear it. There's no doubt about that. I'm a human, and I think a lot of the same things that everybody else does, and I hear all the things that everybody talks about. I know I want to do something that somebody has never done before. I just know that it wouldn't be so helpful on the golf course, so I try to concentrate just on golf, on the golf course.”
It’s a formula taking Park on a record chasing journey.