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.

U.S. Women’s Open: Articles, videos and photos

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.”

Getty Images

Koepka primed for CJ Cup win and world No. 1

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 6:00 am

Brooks Koepka wants a 2-for-1 at the CJ Cup. If he can collect his second non-major PGA Tour victory he can become world No. 1 for the first time in his career.

He’s in great position to accomplish his goal.

Koepka eagled the par-5 18th en route to a 7-under 65 in the second round at Nine Bridges in Juju Island, South Korea. At 8 under par, he is one back of 36-hole leader Scott Piercy (65).

Koepka, currently ranked third in the world, began the day three shots off the lead, but rapidly ascended the leaderboard. He birdied four of his first eight holes before finding trouble at the ninth. Koepka hooked his tee shot out of bounds, but the ninth is a par 5 and he was able to salvage bogey.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

Current Official World Golf Ranking

That was his only dropped shot of the day.

The reigning Tour Player of the Year birdied the 12th and 14th holes in his bid to keep pace with Piercy. Koepka was two back as he played his final hole, where he knocked his second shot to 10 feet. He deftly converted the eagle effort to tie Piercy and earn a spot in Saturday’s final twosome. Piercy later pulled a shot ahead with a birdie at the ninth, his final hole of the day.

Koepka has officially won four PGA Tour events, but three of those are majors (2017, ’18 U.S. Open; 2018 PGA). His lone non-major win was the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

He can still reach world No. 1 with a solo second place, assuming Justin Thomas, currently world No. 4, doesn’t win this week.

That will take a mighty weekend effort by the defending champ.

Thomas also eagled the 18th hole to go from 1 over to 1 under. He shot 2-under 70 in the second round and is seven shots off the lead.

Getty Images

'Go in'? Yes, JT wants an ace at the par-4 14th

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 5:11 am

Justin Thomas didn’t hesitate after hitting his tee shot on the 353-yard, par-4 14th in Round 2 of the CJ Cup.

“Go in,” he immediately said.

“Please go in,” he added.

Thomas’ tee shot was on a great line, but it landed just short of the green. Surprisingly, it took three more shots for his ball to "go in." After birdies on Nos. 12 and 13, Thomas parred the 14th.

Getty Images

Watch: Dufner makes six (!) fist pumps after birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 4:53 am

Jason Dufner makes Ben Stein seem like Jonathan Winters. Dufner often looks mighty miserable for someone who plays golf for a living.

But not on Friday at the CJ Cup!

Dufner made a 20-footer for birdie at the 16th hole and “celebrated” with one-two-three-(pause)-four-five-six fist pumps. There could have been more, but the camera cut away.

That was Dufner’s third birdie on the back nine, which offset a triple bogey at the par-3 seventh, en route to an even-par 72. Good times.

Getty Images

Watch: Paul C-ace-y makes hole-in-one at CJ Cup

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 2:35 am

Par-par-par-par-par-par. It was a boring second round over the first six holes for Paul Casey at the CJ Cup.

And then he aced the par-3 seventh.

Casey's tee shot from 176 tracked straight towards the hole and rolled in near the final revolution. That got him to 2 under par for the tournament. He was five off the lead, held by Chez Reavie, but bogeyed the ninth and 10th holes to give back those two strokes.

Hey, it's a no-cut event and a guaranteed paycheck. Drinks on Casey!