Park setting new standard on course and off

By Randall MellAugust 22, 2016, 11:04 pm

Olympic gold medal winner Inbee Park may never be as beloved in South Korea as Se Ri Pak, but Park is revered in new ways now.

While Park was one of “Se Ri’s kids,” inspired by Pak’s iconic U.S. Women’s Open victory at Blackwolf Run 18 years ago, Park is making her mark in a way that radically departs from Pak, in a way that ought to especially please Pak.

In some ways, Park is breaking the Korean mold.

Pak, 38, will always be embraced as the pioneer who paved the way for South Korea as a force in women’s golf, as the inspiration to so many young girls who wanted to grow up to be just like Se Ri.

Pak will always be beloved in ways no other player will in South Korea, because Pak was the original, and because her excellence radiated beyond golf in South Korean culture. Pak’s breakthrough came with her homeland reeling in hard times. She became a symbol of excellence beyond sport, an example of how determination and hard work can overcome the steepest odds as Pak was the only Korean playing the LPGA when she broke through at Blackwolf Run.

“The Korean economy at the time was very, very bad,” said Ho Jun Sung, a reporter for Korea’s JTBC Golf. “Politicians and media used Se Ri’s win as motivation for the country.”

The timing of Pak’s victory lifted more than golf in Korea. She was a beacon of hope in sport, commerce and industry alike.

Sean Pyun, the LPGA’s managing director of international business affairs, said his Korean parents still have a photograph of Pak in their living room.

“I don’t think they have a photograph of me in there,” he cracked.

When Pak, 38, announced earlier this spring that she was retiring, she said she was proud of her legacy, of the excellence she inspired. But she also said she lives with regrets. She regrets the monster she created back home, the monster ambition, the monster expectation and the singular monster focus that drove young prodigies to spend sun up to sundown on driving ranges.

Pak said that singular focus left her feeling like an incomplete person, and she doesn’t want young South Koreans missing out on a larger life the way she felt she missed out.

“I took care of my golf,” Pak told back in the spring, when she announced her retirement. “I didn’t take care of myself.”

It’s why Pak is dedicating her retirement years to opening a school to train athletes for more than sport. She wants to train hearts, minds and souls, too.

While there’s rampant speculation over whether Park will retire sooner rather than later – she says she has no plans – Inbee is living the larger life Pak wants young South Koreans to live. Inbee is even talking about wanting to start a family within the next couple years.

Inbee is a bit of an anomaly among South Korean women in the way she approaches the game. Park doesn’t hit golf balls until her fingers blister. She doesn’t spend sunrise to sunset on the range. She probably spends less time on the range than any other South Korean playing the LPGA today.

“When Inbee was No. 1 in the world, I used to joke with her,” said 2011 U.S. Women’s Open champion So Yeon Ryu, one of Park’s closest friends on tour. “I used to tell her, `Inbee, you may be No. 1 in the world rankings but if they calculated that based on time spent practicing, you would be last in the rankings.’”

Brad Beecher, Park’s caddie, said it’s a matter of Inbee being so smart and efficient in her work.

“Most Koreans can’t leave the course after a round without going back to the range to practice,” Beecher said. “But if there’s nothing she needs to work on, Inbee’s out of there.”

When Park won the Ricoh Women’s British Open last year, Beecher said there was a bit of mystery to Inbee’s game that the younger Koreans were trying to crack. They were curious about what exactly was separating her from the rest of the richly talented Korean contingent.

“The other coaches and fathers, they’re watching her, to relay it to their daughters,” Beecher said at the time. “You’ll spot them out there watching Inbee on tournament days. They aren’t even watching their own daughters.”

Park’s break from the pack in routines and habits has helped her strike a balance in her life that other players envy.

Park married her swing coach, Gi Hyeob Nam, almost two years ago.

“When I hang out with Inbee and her husband, I’m jealous,” Ryu said. “They do everything together.

“They like to play computer games together on their phones. They cook together. If she’s cooking, he’s the helper. If he’s cooking, she’s the helper. They are a very happy couple.”

Stacy Lewis saw the importance of that balance in Park’s life back when Park was making her run at the Grand Slam, when Park won the first three majors of the year in ’13. That was back when Nam was still Park’s fiancé.

“You see Inbee and her fiancé when they are traveling, and they’re always holding hands walking in the airport,” Lewis said back then. “You can tell she’s very happy in her life and happy with her game. More than anything, that’s what is showing in her life.”

Park began working with Nam as her swing coach in 2011. They changed her swing.

“Inbee’s game went to another level,” Ryu said. “She was upgraded.”

Park has had a great short game for a long time, in part because she was more crooked as a ball striker than she liked growing up. She had to putt well to compete when she was younger.

“My ball striking improved probably 300 percent,” Park said of the changes her husband made to her game.

Ryu believes Nam is the big reason Park’s practice is less consuming than most players, and that Park is more efficient in her work.

“Nam is always there when Inbee practices,” Ryu said. “He knows her swing so well and can see things. She can fix things so quickly. She can get as much done in 30 minutes as other players get done in three hours.

“When I joke with Inbee about her practice time, she always tells me, `When I was young, I practiced so much, I don’t have to practice as much now.’”

Ryu says Nam is a great match for Park on and off the course.

“The way he talks to her, he’s so optimistic,” Ryu said. “You can see how relaxed he makes her.”

Na Yeon Choi, the 2012 U.S. Women’s champ and also friend to Park, sees what Ryu sees.

“He isn’t just a husband and coach to Inbee,” Choi said. “He’s a great friend to her, a great supporter.”

What Ryu and Choi see is a balance in Park’s life that Pak would love other South Koreans to emulate.

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”