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Monday, July 1, 2013
Inbee Park has grand opportunity

By Mechelle Voepel
espnW.com

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- The Women's British Open begins a month from now, running Aug. 1-4 at St. Andrews' Old Course in Scotland. At the LPGA's fourth major of the season, there will be a mix of old world, new world and "what in the world?"

The old world is the legendary St. Andrews itself, where the LPGA will play a major for the second time. Mexico's Lorena Ochoa won the first time the Women's British was played there, in 2007.

The new world is represented by South Korea's Inbee Park, who'll be going for her fourth major title in a row. When Se Ri Pak got the first LPGA victory for a South Korean in 1998, Park was 9 years old.

Inbee Park
The Women's British is the only major Inbee Park hasn't won, but she has been close, finishing as runner-up in 2012.

Now Park is part of the "Se Ri Kids" generation that has changed the tour. Before 1998: zero majors for Koreans. Since 1998: 18 majors. And 10 of those have come from 2008 to now, as those youngsters inspired by Pak grew into adults.

Park, who won the U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack Golf Club here Sunday, is now in the inspiration business herself, attempting to secure a first in women's golf: four majors in a season. That's commonly called a "Grand Slam" in golf and tennis. Except …

Here's the "what in the world" part: What do you call it when there are five majors in a year? A Grand Slam by definition is four, so that part shouldn't change, right? However, if Park -- who has won the past three LPGA events in a row -- wins at St. Andrews, what will she be going for at the Evian Championship in September?

The Evian, a tournament in France that has had one of the biggest purses on tour since it became an official LPGA event in 2000, was granted major status this year. Who could have guessed that, of all years, 2013 would be the first time an LPGA player had three major victories with a chance at a fourth? And maybe fifth.

When Babe Didrikson Zaharias won the three majors in 1950, there were only three to win. Mickey Wright won three of four in 1961, but her third didn't come until the last major of that season. Same for Pat Bradley in 1986.

So Park is in uncharted waters, but she has looked unsinkable of late. She now has six LPGA victories in 2013, including the past three tournaments.

The tour is off this week, then returns with events in Canada, July 11-14, and Ohio, July 18-21. Park said she plans to play in both of those. Then there's a week off before the Women's British. Sometime in there, she will squeeze in a trip home to South Korea, where she'll be greeted with a hero's welcome.

"To inspire some young girls and give them something to look at and to play for, I think, is such a great position to be in," Park said. "I don't go back to Korea that often, so when I'm there, I want to enjoy my time with all of the people in Korea.

"It's always very early in the morning in Korea to watch golf [for the conclusion of U.S. tournaments], and they always wake up very early and root for me. So I should be very thankful for that."

Park has played the Women's British six times and finished in the top 10 there the past three years. That includes a runner-up showing in 2012, when countrywoman Jiyai Shin essentially lapped the field with a nine-stroke victory.

The Women's British dates to 1976, but it didn't become an official LPGA event until 1994. It became a major in 2001.

"I was thrilled when the British came on board," Bradley said of its elevation to major status. "At the time I went through my golf, the British was really not a part of any of our schedules. I think that has been a wise move to make it a major."

Bradley was not an advocate, though, of making the Evian into a fifth major this year. The LPGA has a patchwork history with majors dating to 1930, including events such as the Western Open and Titleholders no longer being in existence. In all, with the Evian in the fold, there are eight tournaments that either once were or now are majors in the LPGA.

Park won the Evian last year, so the Women's British is the only one of the current majors she has not won. But as her recent record there shows, she has knocked on the door.

American players, though, have not fared well at the Women's British. Only one American has won it since it became a major: Sherri Steinhauer in 2006. Now age 50, Steinhauer won the Women's British two other times [1998, '99] as well. She and Emilee Klein ['96] are the only Americans to take that title since it became an official LPGA event in '94.

That means it's not so likely an American will be the one challenging Park's Grand Slam quest in Scotland. Her greatest threat may come from her countrywomen; Koreans have won the Women's British four times and been runners-up four times, too.

"Well, I've just done three majors in a row now," Park said Sunday with the shiny U.S Women's Open trophy next to her. "I think it's too early to think about the next one. I really want to enjoy the moment."

Fair enough. But the countdown toward that next major is starting. There was already an air of excitement for the Women's British just because it was at St. Andrews. Now we know in August, golf's most historic course might be the site of women's golf's most historic feat.