HARRISON, N.Y. – Inbee Park is the best player today in the women’s game.
There’s no doubt now.
With her commanding performance Sunday winning the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Park ascends back to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Ranking, overtaking Lydia Ko, but the ranking is almost inconsequential. The true measure of Park’s supremacy is how she’s dominating major championships at a time when the women’s game is arguably as deep as it’s ever been with so much international talent.
Park pulled away from everybody on a tough track at Westchester Country Club and won by five shots. She was at her best on the weekend with the pressure the most intense. She didn’t make a bogey shooting 5-under-par 68 in the final round, didn’t make a bogey shooting 66 on Saturday, either. She didn’t make a bogey over her last 56 holes.
“I probably feel more happy winning this major championship than being back to No. 1 again,” Park said.
Park showed yet again Sunday that she has no equal today on the game’s grandest stages. In fact, this victory thrusts her into an even larger conversation. She’s only 26, but we can now begin to ask where she stands among the greats in the women’s game and wonder just where she might end up. That’s what winning five of the last 12 major championships does. It’s what winning her sixth major overall does.
Sunday’s triumph was Park’s third consecutive in this championship with the Women’s PGA Championship adopting all the history and records of the LPGA Championship, the special foundation this event is built upon. Annika Sorenstam is the only other player to win this event three consecutive years (2003-05).
“It feels amazing to win three times in a row,” Park said. “Obviously, putting my name alongside Annika Sorenstam and Patty Berg, legends of golf, on this trophy, just being a part of the history of this golf tournament, I feel extremely honored. I can't believe that I just did it. I mean, it has not really sunk down yet.”
That’s the thing with Park now. She’s winning so many of these majors her record is building historic impact.
When she won the first three majors of 2013, she achieved something no woman had done since Babe Zaharias in 1950.
Park has now won as many majors as Kathy Whitworth, Pat Bradley, Patty Sheehan and Betsy King.
Only eight women in the history of the game have won more majors.
Park was asked afterward if making history matters to her.
“I always dreamed of being a part of history,” Park said. “There is my name on this trophy, my name on the U.S. Open trophy. There’s my name on great championships ... I look at my name on this trophy, all the legendary players, and we still remember them.”
Park’s victory at Westchester is especially monumental back in her native South Korea, where women’s golf is so popular. It gives her one more major championship triumph now than Se Ri Pak, the South Korean icon who inspired so many players of Park’s generation growing up in their homeland.
“Se Ri had great accomplishments in women's golf, inspired a lot of young Korean golfers like me,” Park said. “I never thought I would be able to win more majors than her, or tournaments than her.”
Park has a way to go to catch Pak’s 25 LPGA titles. Park is now up to 15.
Still, this major championship run, the history Park made making a run at the Grand Slam two years ago, now winning the LPGA Championship three years in a row, it’s making an impression on the South Koreans chasing her.
“Inbee’s the best ever,” Kim said when asked where Park ranked among South Korea’s great golfers.
Better than Se Ri?
“Yes,” Kim said. “Best ever.”
That’s up for debate, but there’s no debating Park’s major championship performances are separating her from everyone in today’s game. Karrie Webb, Stacy Lewis, Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome Lexi Thompson, Shanshan Feng, Anna Nordqvist, So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, Morgan Pressel, Michelle Wie and Hyo Joo Kim have all proven themselves in major championships. Ko, Sei Young Kim and one of the best rookie classes in the history of the game are destined to win majors, probably a lot of them, but they’re all going to have to get by Park, whose ball-striking is becoming as formidable as her putting.
“Three years ago, it seemed like she was just riding her putter,” Lewis said. “That was pretty obvious. She was making putts from everywhere. Over the last year, I don’t think her putting has been as good, but her ball-striking has gotten better. She gets hot with her putter now, with her good ball-striking, it’s a pretty deadly combination.”
Lewis was impressed that Park’s game is built to win on so many different kinds of courses. She proved that winning this championship at Locust Hill, Monroe Golf Club and Westchester. Park is known for her putting, but she also has one of the best short games on tour. Lewis says Park’s all-around game is underappreciated.
“She doesn’t do anything flashy, or just blow you away,” Lewis said. “She doesn’t have length to where she can bomb it over trees or reach par 5s. She just goes about her business and makes it look easy.”
Park won the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 19, but then she struggled to play at that level again, going winless for three years. She began overhauling her swing with coach Gi Hyeob Nam in 2011 with the full effect of it kicking in during the 2012 season, when she won three times worldwide.
“My ball-striking's been improved probably 300 percent,” Park said. “He's been really the key factor. The ball-striking has been really the key factor for my career. My swing change obviously was the best thing that I've ever done.”
Park married Nam last year.
“He really loves golf,” said Brad Beecher, Park’s long-time caddie. “He works so hard for her. He puts so much effort into to helping her, and I think that really inspires her. She is just driven to get better and better.”
It’s becoming a history-making drive.