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No. 1 Park eyes second major of season at Wegmans

Inbee Park
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Inbee Park’s father didn’t get to jump into Poppie’s Pond with his daughter when she won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in the year’s first major.

Park, though, did the next best thing for her father, Gun Gyu Park.

She brought Poppie’s Pond to him.

Two weeks after the triumph, Park led an unofficial ceremony at the Lotte Championship with her father there. She uncapped a plastic bottle of water she took from Poppie’s Pond and doused her father with it. She gave him a second capped bottle to take home as a keepsake.

“It would have been better if he could have jumped in Poppie’s Pond with me, but he was happy,” Park said.

Park’s family is awash in giddiness over Park’s swift rise in the women’s game. While the odds are steep, the Rolex world No. 1 enters Thursday’s start of the Wegmans LPGA Championship with a chance to win the grandest of Grand Slams. She enters with a chance to become the first player to win five majors in a single season on any tour.

Yeah, it’s unfathomably difficult, but as the winner of the Kraft Nabisco Championship two months ago, Park’s the only woman who has a chance to do so with the LPGA adding the Evian Masters as a fifth major this year.

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How monumental is the challenge? No woman has ever won four majors in a row, much less four in the same year. In the last 40 years, only two women have won the first two majors of the year. Annika Sorenstam did it in ’05 and Pat Bradley in ’86.

Park gives herself a chance to win back-to-back majors with her uncanny ability to get into contention week after week. Throw out her uncharacteristic sluggishness in her last two starts, and Park’s consistent run on to leaderboards is impressive.

It was at last year’s Wegmans LPGA Championship when a light came on for Park. She started a torrid run that would build confidence and momentum leading to her tour-best three victories this season.

Here’s the run Park initiated at Wegmans last year: T-9, T-2, T-4, T-9, Win, T-3, T-2, 2nd, 2nd, Win, T-15, 2nd, T-17, 2nd.

Park rose to No. 1 a week after winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April. She has reigned there for eight weeks.

“I still can’t believe I’m No. 1,” Park said. “It’s tough to believe I’m the top player on this great tour. This is a world tour with so many different players representing so many different countries.”

Being the top player from South Korea is quite the achievement in itself.

Park’s going for something beyond personal triumph this week. She’s bidding to give South Korea its fourth consecutive major championship victory. Na Yeon Choi won the U.S. Women’s Open last summer, Jiyai Shin followed winning the Ricoh Women’s British Open a month later and Park won this year’s Kraft Nabisco.

Park, Choi and Shin were all invited into the media center Wednesday to talk about their success. They look like they’re going to be factors for a long time. Park is 24, Choi and Shin are both 25.

“I’m just really proud of my country,” Park said. “I’m really proud of all the friends that are playing out here. We’re all a similar age group, and we all grew up playing together.”

Asked why South Koreans have risen to power in women’s golf, Park practically shrugged her shoulders.

“I don’t know, it’s in our blood,” Park said.

Park, Choi and Shin are well suited for the challenge offered at Locust Hill this week.

This may be the toughest this course has ever been set up.

“Every year, the rough’s getting thicker and the fairways more narrow,” Park said, “I don’t know whether I’m getting old or the course is getting tougher.”

The rough is only 3 ½ inches long, according to tournament officials, but it is brutally thick and gnarly. The fairways are pinched. The greens are small targets.

The course isn’t overly long at 6,534 yards, but with rain likely Thursday, it will feel as if it’s playing a lot longer.

“The rough is as long as I’ve seen it,” said Karrie Webb, winner of last week’s Shoprite Classic. “I’ve heard we could get 2 inches of rain tomorrow. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if it does rain, the rough isn’t going to get any less thick or less long. It’s going to be tough.”

That suits Park, Choi and Shin as proven major winners.

As Park said, though, the women’s game is so competitive at the top with no player on the kind of dominant runs that Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Yani Tseng enjoyed.

“It’s still a big fight for No. 1,” Park said. “It could change every week. We are really good for each other and for the tour. We share a lot of our wins together, and we have a lot of champions.”