Inbee Park is in an awful predicament as she practically limps and wheezes to make it through the front door to the LPGA Hall of Fame.
Park’s induction should be a glorious affair, but it is quickly turning into what could be an embarrassing episode for both Park and the tour.
The LPGA Hall of Fame’s neglected state does not help Park’s circumstance.
Park deserves better than this.
Who wants to see this proud champion struggling to break 90 at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in two weeks so she can qualify for LPGA Hall of Fame induction? It’s looking possible, though, with the bruised tendon in Park’s left thumb appearing to worsen, and Sahalee Country Club offering what may be the sternest test this season.
Park shouldn’t be out shooting 84 with an injury - like she did Thursday at the Volvik Championship - just to move a step closer to induction. It was her highest score in nearly 10 full seasons on tour and her third withdrawal after the first round this season.
After signing her scorecard, Park withdrew from the Volvik Championship so her ninth start of this year would become official. Park has to complete one round to get credit for an official start, not just hit an opening tee shot. She appears determined to make her 10th start at the Women’s PGA Championship, with 10 starts being the magic number she needs to meet the Hall of Fame’s 10-year membership requirement. She met the more difficult 27-point requirement when she won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average at the end of last year.
Park seems obsessively determined to qualify in Seattle in two weeks with family and friends making plans to be there.
All of this raises pointed questions about the LPGA Hall of Fame and whether its standards are overly burdensome and in need of sweeping review.
It also raises questions about Park’s future and how much she really wants to continue to play if she does meet the induction requirement in Seattle.
There will be those who will blame Park if she stumbles into the Hall of Fame with another high score, who will say, “What was the rush? What was the urgency to meet the 10-year membership requirement when playing through injury would hurt her preparation and recovery time for the Olympic Games?” The Games are in 12 weeks and every injured start now potentially threatens Park’s chances for a gold medal, which may be more coveted by South Koreans than a major championship.
These are legitimate questions that are already leading to speculation on tour that maybe Park is ready to begin the family she craves. If she’s looking to have children sooner rather than later, Brazil’s issues with the Zika virus have to be especially troubling to her.
When Park was asked Thursday about how the thumb injury affects her summer plans for the UL International Crown and the Olympics, her answer fueled speculation.
“I don’t know,” she said. “That could be it. I’m just going to have to wait and see.”
While retirement would be shocking, the LPGA has watched this play out before. Nobody saw Lorena Ochoa’s retirement coming early in 2010. She left the game as Rolex world No. 1 at 28 years old to start a family. Park turns 28 this summer.
The LPGA hasn’t made reaching the Hall of Fame easier on Park.
The LPGA Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee was created to periodically review induction requirements and to consider exceptions to its rules, to consider players who may be deserving of induction despite falling short of the requirements. The Veterans Committee, however, dissolved through neglect and is just being reconstituted this spring after failing to meet for several years.
The LPGA’s 10-year membership rule didn’t suddenly become a hot topic worth revisiting with Park’s quest this season. The LPGA should have seen this coming with Lorena Ochoa’s unresolved Hall of Fame issues.
Ochoa retired early in 2010 with 37 Hall of Fame points, far exceeding the 27 required, but she did not meet the tour 10-year membership requirement. She retired after seven full seasons. Ochoa won 27 LPGA titles, two of them major championships. She won four Rolex Player of the Year awards and also won the Vare Trophy four times. Ochoa seemed a perfect candidate for Hall of Fame induction via the Veterans Committee, and she became eligible for consideration last year, when she reached five years as an inactive player. But there was no Veterans Committee in place to consider her.
Park’s struggles to reach the Hall of Fame have an impact beyond her. The LPGA’s Stephanie Meadow was an alternate who did not get into the Volvik Championship this week and lashed out on social media Friday over the number of WDs (7) there.
“If you’re not ready to play 36 before the cut no matter what you shoot, then you should not enter,” Meadow wrote on her Instagram account.
Meadow clarified that there are legitimate reasons for WDs and that she wasn’t going after Park.
“Inbee’s situation is extremely unique,” Meadow tweeted.
Still, there is an awkwardness to Park’s run into the Hall of Fame that should trouble everyone who cares about Park and the LPGA. She deserves better, and the LPGA deserves better.