SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Inbee Park isn’t quite as unflappable as we all think.
Beneath that wonderfully cool countenance, there really is mortal vulnerability.
In fact, on the eve of the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open, Park was tossing and turning on the 54-hole lead in the four-bedroom house she was renting with her parents in the Hamptons. It was about 11 p.m., and the weight of all the history awaiting her Sunday at Sebonack Golf Club was finally coming down hard.
Unable to sleep, Park opened the door of her bedroom and waved for her mother to come inside for a talk. Park confessed she was feeling nervous trying to become the first player since Babe Zaharias in 1950 to win the first three majors in a season. She confessed that she was worried about letting down friends and fellow South Koreans. She confessed she was worried about disappointing her family.
“Mom?” Park asked Sung Kim, her mother. “Do you think I can really do this?”
Sung Kim is telling this story early Sunday evening behind the 18th green. She is beaming with joy and pride because her daughter is holding the answer in her hands. Inbee is down on the green hoisting the Harton S. Semple trophy over her head as the 68th U.S. Women’s Open champion. Inbee is beaming, too, with dozens of South Koreans who live in the New York area wildly chanting while waving their homeland’s national colors.
“I will not forget this moment,” Sung Kim says through a friend who is translating. “I am so honored to be here. I am so proud of her.”
So was Gun Gyu, Inbee’s father, as he mingled amid the jubilance with the Great Peconic Bay as the backdrop.
“I just hope this is not a dream,” Park said afterward with her trophy sparkling before her. “I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and have to play the final round again.”
Park, 24, moved into special company becoming the first woman in six decades to start the season with a trifecta of major titles. She made history joining Zaharias, Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986) as the only women to win three majors in a season. She is threatening to make more history now with the possibility she could become the first man or woman to win the modern Grand Slam, a sweep of all the majors in a single season.
Through four rounds, Park seemed delightfully oblivious to all the hype in her march to history, but that was never true. She knew what was at stake. While she never betrayed the least bit of angst between the ropes, never betrayed nerves or doubt, she harbored them.
On Saturday night, she shared them with her mother.
“Mom, if something happens tomorrow . . . don’t expect too much,” Inbee said.
Sung Kim said she reassured her daughter. She shared feelings she hoped would help Inbee.
“It’s OK,” Sung Kim told her. “Don’t worry. If you win, it’s OK. If you lose, it’s OK. We are just so happy either way.”
Park made an entire nation proud closing out the victory with a 2-over-par 74 on another difficult setup at Sebonack. Even with four bogeys over two birdies, Park was never really threatened. She started the day with a four-shot lead over I.K. Kim (74), and that’s how the day ended.
At 8-under 280, Park won her sixth LPGA title this season, her third in a row, and her second U.S. Women’s Open title.
The victory pads Park’s lead as No. 1 in the Rolex world rankings and fuels a buzz over the women’s return to St. Andrews, the home of golf, for the Ricoh Women’s British Open in the first week of Augusta.
It didn’t take long for Park to be asked about the next leg in her quest to win the Grand Slam. Given the LPGA added the Evian Masters as its fifth major this year, there promises to be some debate about whether she has to win four or five in a row to claim a Grand Slam.
“It’s too early to think about the next one,” Park said. “I really want to enjoy the moment.
“I’m just glad I can give it a try at St. Andrews. That’s going to be a great experience, whether I do it or not, I’m just a lucky person.”
With all the history she’s making, Park was never really comfortable talking about it all week. She said Friday that she was trying her best not to think about it because of the pressure it created.
Her caddie, Brad Beecher, said they didn’t talk about it all week, not until the end was within sight.
“We didn’t talk about it at all, until walking after hitting that third shot [at the 18th hole],” Beecher said. “I just said, `Inbee, you are about to join history. Enjoy this walk.’ I enjoyed it, too. It was pretty darn special.”
Beecher has toted Park’s bag for six years. He has watched her star ascend again after all the struggles that ensued after her first U.S. Women’s Open title in 2008, back when she was just 19, the youngest winner of the championship. She didn’t win another LPGA title for four years after that.
“I don’t think she could even put words to this, what she’s accomplished,” Beecher said. “I can’t even put words to it.”
It’s a story with more chapters promising to be written, more history.