In 2007, South Korea’s Inbee Park finished 11th as a rookie at the Women’s British Open at St Andrews. Six years on and she is back at the famous Old Course as the world No. 1 and attempting to become the first golfer — male or female — to win four majors in one season.
Following her victories at the Kraft Nabisco, the LPGA Championship and the US Open, the addition of a first British Open would rewrite history.
“It is nice to be back here in Scotland with three major victories,” the 25-year-old from Seoul said. “There is a lot of pressure and everyone is talking about me trying to make it four in a row, but I’m getting used to it and once I am on the course I only think about golf.”
Park spent last week back home in South Korea — and there was plenty of evidence of the rewards of her success. Not only was she the center of fans’ attention, but she was also handed the keys to a red Ferrari.
“I’ve been given it for a year,” she said, before returning her focus back to golf. “I feel as though I’ve already played two different golf courses. Yesterday [Monday], there was no wind. Today [Tuesday] was really windy and wet, and it was completely different.”
“I have great memories of 2007. It was my first year on Tour and Lorena Ochoa won the title. At that time, she was the best player in the world,” she said of the retired Mexican.
Park is known as a cool customer in the heat of battle and she admits that she is good at keeping her emotions in check. She has also learned over the years.
It was in 2008 that she made her first big breakthrough with a win as a teenager in the US Women’s Open, but it took until last year’s Evian Masters in France before she collected her second LPGA title.
“I was only 19 when I won that first major and I wasn’t experienced” she said. “I needed a few more years to get used to everything associated with being a top player. I’ve matured as a person and my swing has also improved — that’s the difference over the past year or so.”
If Park does win on Sunday, there remains debate over whether her four majors this year can be classed as a Grand Slam. This year, the Evian Masters has been upgraded to major status for the first time and she plans to defend that title next month, but the term does not really matter — four in a row would be an incredible achievement and having the chance to add a fifth would just add to the story.
For world No. 2 Stacy Lewis, this week is a happy walk down memory lane.
Five years ago, the American won five out of five matches and led the US to victory over Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup at St Andrews.
“It’s cool to be back at St Andrews,” Lewis said. “When you’ve played well at a course, it always feels good. In the past, I’ve come to British Opens not knowing the courses, but I remember so much from 2008.”
She also admitted having huge admiration for Park’s standing in the sport.
“You would think winning two majors in a row would have fazed her, but she proved us wrong at the US Open. She just never seems to show any nerves,” Lewis said.
Two weeks ago at The Open, there was much consternation that Muirfield is an all-male club in terms of membership. For Lewis, the more disappointing discrepancy in the golfing genders is the difference in prize money.
Phil Mickelson won ￡918,000 (US$1.4 million) at Muirfield — while on Sunday the winner at St Andrews will pocket just under ￡328,000.
“The ultimate goal is to have the same money as the guys,” the Texan said.