Inbee Park’s saga continues
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- So this is what you get when you put a golf course right next to a sea: Sometimes the wind tells you that you can’t play.
Well, you could, if you didn’t mind hitting putts that were already rolling or watching your ball perform aerial maneuvers over which you had zero control.
Sounds like fun, right? But they are pretty stuffy about these things in professional golf, and the steady wind of more than 30 mph much of the afternoon/evening at St. Andrews brought everything to a standstill, including Inbee Park’s kind-of-alive quest for a Grand Slam.
Play was suspended at midday, then finally called around 6 p.m. local time because the wind never abated -- until about an hour after the players were sent home.
“We actually recorded gusts of over 50 mph, which, I have to say, I have not seen very often in this country,” said Susan Simpson, head of operations for the Ladies Golf Union, which owns the tournament. “Quite a bit of damage to infrastructure further out on the course, too.”
Conditions might not be a whole lot better Sunday, when play is supposed to resume at 6:15 a.m. here.
“It’s still going to be windy,” Simpson said. “Let’s say we hope not, but yes, Monday is an option. This is a major championship, and every endeavor will be made to try to play 72 holes.”
South Korea’s Park, the world’s No. 1 player, is hanging on by her fingernails for a chance at winning her fourth consecutive major. She got in four holes Saturday, scrambling to pars on Nos. 1, 2 and 4 and getting a birdie on No. 3. That puts her at 3 under, at least a smidge closer to the 10-under lead of countrywoman Na Yeon Choi, who was among 18 players who never teed off Saturday.
A gust of nearly 40 mph moved several balls on greens, Park’s included, around the time tournament officials called everyone off the course. Nine players had finished and then high-tailed it out of Dodge, as it were, but everyone else was left hanging.
And so the saga of Park’s historic quest takes another turn. Nobody said these things were easy. Maybe that’s why no golfer has won four professional majors in a calendar year. Wind, rain, bad bounces, unfortunate lies, other players and nerves can get in the way. Park has faced all of that here at St. Andrews.
She opened Thursday with a 69 that could/should have been better, save for what she called a lapse in concentration on the back nine. She ended that day at 3 under after having been as low as 6 under. Still, she was right in the mix.
Friday, though, was when things got away from her. Park never built any momentum in the second round, and Choi was among those who did. Park’s 73 left her at 2 under, meaning 8 strokes and a lot of golfers stood between her and the top perch.
So does Saturday’s wind-out help or hurt Park? Or neither? It will depend in part on what the weather is like -- and how that affects the greens -- Sunday. (Or, yikes, Monday.)
Perhaps it isn’t a bad thing for Park that those at the top of the leaderboard have to sleep on it for another night. Choi has won a major recently -- last year’s U.S. Women’s Open. But Miki Saiki, in second place at 9 under, has never won an LPGA title. She plays mostly on the Japanese tour.
American Morgan Pressel, in third at 8 under, and Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, tied for fourth at 7 under, have won one major apiece. But both were in 2007, so it’s been a while.
“You can tell players that have been in contention,” said the last American to win a major, Stacy Lewis (2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship), earlier this week. “They have been in those final groups. You just have to get there and experience it and learn how your body reacts to it.”
Park acknowledged Friday that, despite all her experience this year with winning, she was somewhat physically affected by nerves here. She couldn’t pin it down to one particular swing or hole. It was just a generalized feeling that she wasn’t as fluid and comfortable as she’s been most of this year.
However, she said she wasn’t tired at all because extreme heat is what she finds most fatiguing and there hasn’t been any of that. She also talked about how she was equally at ease having the lead or needing to rally on the weekend, although she’d prefer not to have to rally this much.
Park wanted the conditions to be difficult Saturday, thinking that might be the only way enough of the leaders would back up for her to have a chance to catch them -- provided she was able to conquer the weather herself. But nobody, including Park, could have done much with the wind Saturday. Even the ghost of Old Tom Morris, clever expert as he was about his beloved home course, would have sat this one out.
This is the second LPGA major this season in which at least some of the players will need to go 36 holes on Sunday. Everyone had to do that at the LPGA Championship in June, as it appeared to be monsoon season in Rochester, N.Y. Park took the lead in Sunday morning’s third round there and held on in the afternoon’s fourth round to make a playoff with Catriona Matthew. Park won that on the third hole.
Before Rochester, the last marathon final day -- 36 holes -- at an LPGA major was last year’s Women’s British Open, which was held at Royal Liverpool in England and won by South Korea’s Jiyai Shin. Park finished second then, but by a wide margin of 9 shots.
LPGA players are used to dealing with weather delays, just as they are used to getting up before dawn for early tee times and successfully fake-laughing at the lame jokes of their pro-am partners.
Accepting Mother Nature’s rules is part of any job performed in the outdoors, and playing well despite the conditions is one of the factors that separate golfers.
To make a run at the title, Park will need a lot to go right for her and a lot to go wrong for others. But the elements will have their say in this, too.