SAN FRANCISCO – A lot has changed since Inbee Park competed in her first U.S. Women’s Open in 2004.
Since then she’s become a seven-time major champion, won 21 times on the LPGA Tour and captured Olympic gold.
What hasn’t changed is her desire to win.
“Every week I compete trying to win, no matter if it's my 20th win, 30th win, it doesn't matter,” Park said Tuesday at The Olympic Club. “I think you're just trying to go one more.”
Park played in her first U.S. Women’s Open 15 years ago at The Orchards as an amateur. On Tuesday, she played a practice round with an amateur, a young player from Japan, who took a no-holds-barred approach to tackling the major championship.
“My first U.S. Open, I was an amateur, so I had nothing to be afraid of,” Park recalled, feeling the same way as her most recent amateur playing partner. “She just looked nothing to be scared of on this golf course and just bombing the balls. I kind of envy that, and I don't think I'll be able to ever do that again.”
Now 32, Park returns to the U.S. Women’s Open an accomplished veteran who has matured as both a person and a player since that first round at The Orchards. The idea of bombing golf balls at a major championship isn’t a thought she’d remotely entertain at this stage in her career. Instead, Park has become a tactician. She’s engineered a game that is built for success in major championships. In 2021, she leads the tour in both scoring average and putting.
Perhaps more importantly, she has a mindset suited for major championships, particularly the test presented at a U.S. Women’s Open. Twice, Park has outlasted the USGA’s toughest test. In 2008, she won her first major title at Interlachen Country Club, becoming the youngest champion at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days. In 2013, she captured a second title in the midst of winning three consecutive majors on tour.
Since her U.S. Women’s Open victory in 2013, Park has the most top-10 finishes (21) and most rounds in the 60s (50). She also holds the lowest scoring average in the championship at 70.68 and leads at a cumulative 112 strokes under par.
“I think it's just my game really suits the tough golf courses, and probably I'm pretty calm on the golf course too,” Park said. “Whatever happens on the golf course, I kind of manage myself to stay calm no matter what.”
Park arrives at the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club poised to make history yet again. With a victory, she would become the first player since Annika Sorenstam in 2006 to capture three U.S. Women’s Opens. Should she win an eighth major title, she would move into a tie for sixth for most major victories in LPGA Tour history.
“I don't really have an exact number,” Park said when asked about the number of majors she hopes to win. “I think I actually have definitely gone beyond my number anyway. I've definitely achieved a lot more than I really thought.”