Inbee Park wasn’t as impervious to pressure as we thought she was.
She wasn’t as unflappable in competition and as at peace chasing history as we all believed she was in her record-setting season.
She told us so when her remarkable run was over.
She confided in the end how she struggled with the attention and scrutiny that accompanied her growing success.
And that only made what she did in 2013 all the more impressive.
Park, 25, was a model of grace under pressure becoming the first woman to win the first three major championships of the year since Babe Zaharias in 1950. Mona Lisa’s smile betrays more angst to all the folks who study her hanging in the Louvre than Park’s face did this year. Winning six times overall, rising to Rolex world No. 1, winning the LPGA money title and becoming the first South Korean to win the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year, Park never betrayed the slightest vulnerability.
“You wouldn’t know whether she’s winning a tournament or whether she’s losing, and that’s what you need in a major,” Stacy Lewis said with Park in the midst of her hot run. “As a player, you’d like to know if she’s human, to see if she actually feels the nerves like the rest of us do.”
Park’s face may be the most impenetrably placid in the game, but she revealed at year’s end that there was a lot going on behind that wall of serenity.
“Many people say I look effortless when I play golf,” Park said in her acceptance speech as Rolex Player of the Year at year's end. “They also say I’m emotionless. Some even started calling me the `Silent Assassin.’ I think that’s a great nickname. It means I get my job done without making an unnecessary mess. However, just because I don’t show my feelings, doesn’t mean that I don’t feel anything.
“I went through the biggest waves of emotions on the tour this season.
“What I have gone through this year, what I have experienced, has been the most challenging task I’ve ever had to go through. The season seemed endless. Every tournament, every round, was a constant battle. I felt as if I was chased. There wasn’t a single moment this year where I felt completely relaxed. I felt as if I wasn’t left alone for one second.”
Park didn’t just handle the challenges between the ropes. She handled them outside. She signed autographs, granted interviews and made appearances without a hint that they may have inconvenienced her.
Little did we know . . .
“I just felt so uncomfortable standing in front of a crowd whose eyes were all on me,” Park said. “But now, I also realize, it is part of the job, so I want to feel as comfortable standing here as I do on the golf course.”
Park looks as comfortable over a putt as any player in the game. She didn’t dominate overpowering courses. She dominated with her flat stick. She dominated with the smoothest putting stroke in the game. She demoralized competition holing putt after putt after putt.
Park led the LPGA in putts per greens in regulation for the third time in her seven seasons on tour. Notably, she has no putting coach, never has. While her fiance, Gi Hyeob Nam, was instrumental in honing her swing, Park tends to her own putting stroke.
“Putting has been my instinct and my feeling,” Park says.
Nobody was better suited to deal with the confounding undulations at Sebonack, where Park won the U.S. Women’s Open for her third consecutive major.
At year's end, though, Park said her real secret this season wasn’t putting or ball striking. It was something internal.
“So to answer the media’s question: Who is the `Silent Assassin?’” Park said in her POY acceptance speech. “Well, I am someone who believes in finding happiness. My goal at the beginning of the year was simple: Let’s be happier than last year. At most, let’s win one more tournament.
“Don’t we all want to be happy? Aren’t we all doing whatever we do in order to be happy? Unexpectedly, as soon as happiness became my goal, I achieved more than ever.”
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