Inbee Park reaching for the stars
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- It would seem Inbee Park has just about the perfect personality for golf, which isn't necessarily perfect for storytellers attempting to give you a more nuanced view of the No. 1 women's player in the world.
"Like after 18 holes, you don't know if she shot 10 under or 10 over. She's always the same," former top-ranked player Yani Tseng said. "If she wins, she's happy. If she doesn't, she goes on to the next week. She doesn't really show how much she cares about the result."
Rest assured, Park cares a lot. And she's had a great deal to be happy about in 2013, as she's won five times on the LPGA Tour. That includes the first two majors of the season: the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the LPGA Championship.
If she ends up the winner of the U.S. Women's Open here at Sebonack Golf Club, that will give her the first three majors of the season.
Admittedly, women's golf has a convoluted history in regard to majors. This year there are five events with that designation. Dating to 1930, when the majors "era" for women essentially began, there have been four, three, two and even just one major per year in various eras.
Regardless, Park is potentially entering some lofty territory. Only three women have won three majors in a calendar year: Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1950, Mickey Wright in 1961 and Pat Bradley in 1986.
Park is coming into this Women's Open off a victory at the NW Arkansas Championship, where she won Sunday with a birdie on the first playoff hole. She also won the LPGA Championship in a playoff.
"This is the best I'm playing in my career so far," Park said Tuesday at Sebonack. "[There's] a lot more pressure on me. I'm trying to enjoy where I am and keep this going as long as I can."
Park's sphinx-like visage doesn't reveal anything, but that doesn't mean there is nothing there to be revealed. For instance, we can gather Park is a bit of a romantic. Asked her favorite movie, she says "The Notebook." She credits a lot of her success to being happy with fiancé Gi Hyeob Nam, both personally and professionally; they've been together about five years, and he became her coach in 2011.
You might think that means her life is golf 24/7, but Park said that's not the case at all.
"I think I'm really good at forgetting about golf when I'm off the golf course," she said.
And on the course, she's improved every aspect of her play. The first thing her peers mention is Park's putting. It's stellar. But she's better off the tee now, giving her even more opportunities at birdie.
Park credits her difficulties earlier in her career with getting to the green in the right spots as a big part of what has made her such a good putter. She had to scramble just to survive, and she got very good at it.
"I had to make it up-and-down to make a par," Park said. "Trying [to do that] from everywhere gave me a lot of focus."
We should probably add a qualifier in there for Park: It gave her more focus. She appears to have been born with a lot of that, and ambition. Having come to the United States as a sixth-grader, Park had to learn English and hone her golf skills while also navigating plain old growing up.
"When I first came to the States, my mom wouldn't let me go back to Korea for a couple of years," Park said. "She wanted me to speak English all the time."
Same for Korean TV shows; Park's mom told her not to watch them for a while, either, so she would instead immerse herself more into American culture. That was to help Park be better prepared for life on the LPGA Tour.
That kind of discipline and commitment is what helped Park get her first LPGA title, and it was a huge one: the 2008 Women's Open. She was just 19 then, and it was all a bit overwhelming.
It would be four years and one month before she would win again, and this was another big event: the 2012 Evian Masters. (That tournament was elevated to a fifth major this year.) She also won another LPGA title last year and entered 2013 poised to make it a special year.
But it's been even more than Park anticipated. And there's still so much of the season left. She has won from comfortably ahead, while coming from behind and also when she didn't play especially well down the stretch. And she is still just a youngster; she'll celebrate her 25th birthday next month.
"She's really comfortable with her life right now," said countrywoman Na Yeon Choi, the defending champion at the Women's Open. "I think she's very happy. She never thinks negatively."