ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Her story is almost too enchanting to be true.
If there is an author to the scripting of Inbee Park’s career, the master storyteller couldn’t have led her to a more dramatic stage than St. Andrews in her historic march this week.
“I feel like the whole world is watching me,” Park said.
Is it really coincidence Park will be trying to become the first man or woman to win four professional major championships in a single season at the Old Course, where more history has been made than any other golf venue in the world? Of all the places this magical story could go, how does the page turn here, to the revered home of golf, in just the second time the women have been allowed to play a major championship here?
Hall of Famer Pat Bradley is a believer in golf’s cosmic architecture.
“For Inbee Park to be going to the home of golf to do this, it feels like destiny to me,” said Bradley, who made her own Grand Slam bid in 1986, when she won three of the four major championships in women’s golf. “It is such a storybook venue. For St. Andrews to be in the rotation for this, with all the history there, it really seems destined.”
Bradley is not alone believing fate is a force every bit as real over the Old Course as the winds that blow off the North Sea.
Lorena Ochoa believes, too. She felt it at St. Andrews.
When Ochoa won the first women’s major ever staged at the Old Course in 2007, she felt an overwhelming sense that she was being led to the moment. She felt this before she even teed it up that week. She felt it when she arrived Sunday before the championship began.
Fresh off the plane after the Evian Masters, Ochoa made it to the Old Course with the sun about to set. It was too late to play, but she walked around the 18th hole with her brother, Alejandro. They lingered, just soaking up the sense of history in the stillness of dusk.
Ochoa stood there imagining the finish she wanted.
“There was just this feeling,” Ochoa said. “I pictured myself there on the 18th green, lifting the trophy. It was like it was meant to be, almost like I knew it was going to happen.”
To fully appreciate the power of that moment, you have to understand the pressure Ochoa was under, the doubts up against her in majors. At that point, at 25, she had already won a dozen LPGA titles and overtaken Annika Sorenstam as the Rolex world No. 1, but Ochoa still had yet to win a major. In fact, she had squandered chances to win a few of them, raising questions about her ability to handle major championship pressure. Just a month earlier, she had a chance to win the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles but couldn’t hit a green in regulation over the final five holes. She tied for second behind Cristie Kerr. She also squandered a chance at the Kraft Nabisco that spring. The co-leader halfway through, she shot 77 on Saturday with a quadruple bogey at the 17th hole.
Ochoa, though, showed all her brilliant promise at St. Andrews, breaking through in dominating fashion in a four-shot rout. She emphatically established herself as the best player in the game.
“After winning at St. Andrews, you realize things happen for a reason,” Ochoa said. “I had chances and had come so close at the U.S. Open and Kraft Nabisco before going to St. Andrews, but looking back, it helps you understand how golf works, how life works. There was something special waiting to happen for me. It happened at St. Andrews.”
Park arrives at St. Andrews with destiny oddly intertwined with her name.
Yes, she’s South Korean, but the name Park is revered in Scottish golf. Willie Park Sr. won the very first British Open ever played back at Prestwick Golf Club in 1860, beating the favored Old Tom Morris by two shots. Park won four British Opens overall. His brother, Mungo, won the Open in 1874. Willie’s son, Willie Park Jr., won two Open titles.
Inbee arrives with more than Scotland watching. She’s the first woman to win the first three major championships of the year since Babe Zaharias in 1950. While amateur Bobby Jones won the four majors of his era in 1930, Park is looking to become the first man or woman to win four professional majors in a single season.
The fact that she’s trying to do it on the most historic venue in golf heightens the drama.
Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam played St. Andrews when it first hosted the Women’s British Open six years ago. She appreciated being among the first women to play the course in a major.
“It’s like holy ground,” Sorenstam said.
The first time Park qualified for the Women’s British Open, it was at St. Andrews. She had just turned 19 when she tied for 11th there. She fell in love with the course and is eager to return.
“I can’t wait,” Park said. “Everything about the golf course is very special.”
Bobby Jones won the second of his three British Open titles at St. Andrews in 1927. Sam Snead won the British Open there in ’46, Seve Ballesteros in ’84 and Nick Faldo in ’90. Jack Nicklaus won two Opens there in ’70 and ’78. Tiger Woods also won two there in 2000 and ’05.
From Old Tom Morris to Young Tom Morris, from Jones to Nicklaus to Woods, nearly all the game’s greats have at least walked St. Andrews’ fairways, if not won there.
Back when Bradley was fashioning her Hall of Fame career, the LPGA never got to play at St. Andrews. She so yearned to play there, though, she drove to the Old Course on the Monday after the ’92 Solheim Cup was played at Dalmahoy Country Club in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the first and only time she ever played there, and she relished it.
“It was a beautiful day, and as I was playing, I was thinking of all the footsteps I might have touched from over the years,” Bradley said. “I’m playing, and I’m thinking, ‘Am I touching the footsteps of Old Tom Morris and Bobby Jones?’ It was wonderful.
“I’m rooting for Inbee Park so much. I really believe that St. Andrews is where the Grand Slam is to be won.”
It would be a storybook finish for golf’s most storied venue.