Unflappable Park shooting for third straight major

By Randall MellJune 25, 2013, 10:25 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Inbee Park’s special gift goes beyond her superior skill with a putter. She attacks golf courses with an unshakeable sense of peace.

Or so it seems, as she marches through birdies and bogeys with a countenance that won’t be cracked by elation or angst.

“She doesn’t really get very emotional,” said Yani Tseng, the former Rolex world No. 1. “She always stays very quiet. After 18 holes, you don’t know if she shot 10 under or 10 over. She’s the same, always.”

Park appears genetically incapable of hurling a golf club or an insult or even a surly, sideways glance. Solace is her ally, and her weapon. It’s a weapon in how maddeningly steady she can appear to opponents trying to press her.

“Sometimes, I’m very jealous of Inbee, because she has a very happy life,” said Na Yeon Choi, who defends her U.S. Women’s Open title at Sebonack Golf Club this week.

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When all hell is breaking loose, Park is an island of tranquility amid the storm. We saw it when she struggled in the final round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship three weeks ago. She looked like she was going to throw away her back-nine lead with bogeys over three of the final five holes before coolly rebounding to beat Catriona Matthew in a playoff.

It’s a wonderful temperament that Park, 24, takes into Sundays at the majors, where worry and fear can morph into maelstroms of anxiety.

With Park’s ball striking catching up to her deft short game and velvet putting touch, she’s the favorite this week to become the first woman in more than six decades to claim the first three major championships of the year.

With the Kraft Nabisco and LPGA Championship already under her belt, Park looks in peak form as she tries to add this week’s U.S. Women’s Open as the third leg of the grandest of Grand Slam bids in women’s golf. With the Evian Masters becoming a major this year, women’s golf offers a five-legged slam.

Here at Sebonack Golf Club, a linksy course built on a vista between the Atlantic Ocean and Great Peconic Bay, the winds can bedevil players as much as the confounding undulations of the greens. That means temperaments promise to be tested. And that makes the South Korean Park doubly tough to beat. She has that steady putting stroke to navigate these greens. She also has the cool resolve to absorb the setbacks that the U.S. Women’s Open can deliver.

Improved ball striking over the last year has made Park’s game as maddeningly consistent as her temperament for pros trying to beat her. Park has already won five times this year, including the last two LPGA events.

“I know people like to see somebody make history and do all of that, but, for players, it's frustrating to see someone sit there and win week after week after week,” said Stacy Lewis, who was No. 1 until Park took it from her. “She's making good putts, and she's steady. Every time I feel like she may have an OK round, the next day, she’s up there on the leaderboard again.

“She’s just always there, always giving herself a chance, and nothing really seems to faze her. That's the big thing. She just makes putt after putt after putt, and she's there at the end of the day.”

Park broke through to win the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 19 at Interlachen, becoming the youngest winner of this event. After that, she endured four winless seasons. Her game came together in a hurry last year after her fiancé took over as her golf coach.

Gi Hyeob Nam found something in Park’s swing that turned around her erratic driving and iron games. He fixed her early release. It’s funny, though, because Park said her waywardness was important in her development. It helped her hone her short game.

“I was just hitting it everywhere,” Park said. “I had to get it up and down from everywhere. I think that's what it came down to. I improved a lot on my short game, because I had to hit it out of so many places. I probably missed nine or ten greens per round every round. I was hitting it horribly after [that first] U.S. Open. Trying to get up and downs from everywhere gave me a lot of focus.”

It’s that resolve and equanimity that makes Park a threat to become the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1950 to win the first three major championships in a season.

A victory this week puts Park in some impressive company. Zaharias, Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986) are the only women to win three majors in a single season. Even if Park doesn’t join them, you aren’t likely to see the disappointment in her.

It’s part of what makes Park look like a threat to reign at No. 1 for awhile. In a year where Rory McIlroy and Yani Tseng both confessed to trouble dealing with the pressure of being No. 1, Park plays as if she doesn’t have any worries. She plays as if she has the clearest head in golf.

“I think I'm really good at forgetting about golf when I'm off the golf course,” Park said. “I don't think about golf once I'm off the course. When I go home, I’m just very relaxed, and watch some TV. The weeks that I've been having recently, I don't think I really need to think about golf outside the golf course. I'm just very happy when I'm off the course.”

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Descending into golf's depths, and trying to dig out

By Brandel ChambleeApril 23, 2018, 3:05 pm

Watching Alvaro Quiros finish second this past week in Morocco, I was reminded of just how rare it is for player to come back from the depths of golf hell.

Quiros, a player of immense ability, hype and length, won the Dubai World Championship – his sixth win in four years – to close out 2011 and then went down the rabbit hole of trying to change his golf swing. He would miss 11 cuts in 2012 and either miss the cut or withdraw in another 41 European Tour events over the next four years. Because he hadn’t won a major championship, his epic backwards slide in the world rankings (435th prior to this past week) mostly went unnoticed – but it was far from unusual.

Ian Baker-Finch won the 1991 Open Championship, but just three years later, when he played 20 events on the PGA Tour and missed 14 cuts, he no longer looked anything like a recent major champion. In 1995, he played in 18 events and either missed the cut, withdrew or was disqualified from every one of them. In 1996, he missed the cut in all 11 events he entered on the PGA Tour; and in 1997, he shot 92 in the first round of The Open, withdrew from the championship and stopped playing professional golf.

Like Quiros, Baker-Finch’s downfall came after his biggest win, when he finally thought he had the time, because of the 10-year exemption he received, to change his golf swing.

David Duval won the 2001 Open Championship and just two years later he shot 83-78 in the same event and missed the cut, which was one 16 events he either missed the cut or withdrew from that year. In 2005, he missed 18 cuts in 19 starts. Duval’s competitive demise may well have been precipitated by injuries and an existential malaise after winning golf’s oldest championship, but it was accompanied by queries far and wide as to how to correct his swing and thinking, just like Baker-Finch before him and Quiros thereafter.

These desperate searches for help, like the indelible ink stains on dyer’s hands, are the one common thread amongst those who suffer from the absolute negation of their technical and then creative abilities. Those who take as indisputable the theories of others are, in the deepest sense, wounding their own intuition. They are controverting the evidence of their own senses in such a way that is comforting to the insecure player, but tragic to the artist. To quote Carl Jung: “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”

As I write this, PGA Tour winners Steven Bowditch (1,885th in the world) and Smylie Kaufman (337th) are in similar downward spirals in their careers and no doubt are desperate for, and susceptible to any suggestion.

One player they can look to who made it back from the frantic madness that accompanies losing one’s game, is Henrik Stenson. He put his trust in one man, Pete Cowen, even though while working with Pete he missed 14 cuts in 2002, followed by 15 missed cuts in 2003, and 11 in 2004. What Stenson did not do was panic and run from teacher to teacher, from shrink to shrink, as the missed cuts piled up.

Stenson, with Cowen’s help, slowly built one of the most reliable swings in the history of the game. A swing that regularly leads events in fairways found and greens hit in regulation. A swing that authored the lowest score ever shot in major championship history. A swing that is a far cry from the OB-launching swipes he was taking in late-2001 and 2002.

Given the soul-eating depths of where he came from, a place from which few have dug themselves out of, I watch Stenson play golf with a far great admiration than I otherwise would, and similarly was pulling for Quiros in Morocco. The same way I am pulling for Bowditch and Kaufman to find their games again.

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Langer skipping Senior PGA for son's HS graduation

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 2:53 pm

Defending champion Bernhard Langer will miss this year’s Senior PGA Championship to attend his son’s high school graduation.

Langer made the announcement Monday, during Senior PGA media day at Harbor Shores in Michigan. The event will be held May 24-27.

“I won’t be able to defend my title this year because my son graduates from high school that very same weekend,” he said. “Family comes first in my life, so I have to be there to celebrate.”

Langer said that his son, Jason, will play golf for the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. Langer and his family live in South Florida.

Langer won last year’s event at Trump National outside Washington, D.C. The 60-year-old has no wins but three runners-up in eight senior starts this season.  

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Landry reaches OWGR career high after Valero win

By Will GrayApril 23, 2018, 12:40 pm

After notching his first career PGA Tour win at the Valero Texas Open, Andrew Landry also reached unprecedented heights in the latest installment of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Landry shot a final-round 68 at TPC San Antonio to win by two shots, and in the process he cracked the top 100 in the world rankings for the first time at age 30. Landry started the week ranked No. 114, but he's now up to 66th. The move puts him within reach of a possible U.S. Open exemption, given that the top 60 in the May 21 rankings will automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills.

Trey Mullinax went from No. 306 to No. 169 with his T-2 finish in San Antonio, while fellow runner-up Sean O Hair jumped 29 spots to No. 83 in the world. Jimmy Walker, who finished alone in fourth, went from No. 88 to No. 81 while fifth-place Zach Johnson moved up five spots to No. 53.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Alexander Levy took home the title at the European Tour's Trophee Hassan II, allowing the Frenchman to move from No. 66 to No. 47. With no OWGR points available at this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Levy is guaranteed to stay inside the top 50 next week, thereby earning a spot in The Players.

Idle since an MDF result at the Houston Open, former world No. 1 Lee Westwood dropped two spots to No. 100 this week. It marks the first time Westwood has been ranked 100th or worse in nearly 15 years, ending a streak of consistency that dates back to September 2003.

The top 10 in the rankings remained the same, with Dustin Johnson leading off at No. 1 followed by Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose. Rickie Fowler remains No. 6 with Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia rounding out the top 10.

With no starts announced until the U.S. Open in June, Tiger Woods dropped two more spots to No. 91 in the latest rankings.

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What's in the bag: Valero Texas Open winner Landry

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 12:34 pm

Andrew Landry won his first PGA Tour event at the Valero Texas Open. Here's a look inside the winners' bag.

Driver: Ping G30 (9 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 65X shaft

Fairway woods: Ping G (14.5 degrees adjusted to 15.5), with Project X HZRDUS Yellow 75X shaft; (17.5 degrees), with Project X HZRDUS Yellow 85X shaft

Irons: Ping iBlade (3-PW), with Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 105 S shafts

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 (52, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400 shafts

Putter: Ping PLD ZB-S

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x