Inbee Park: LPGA Juggernaut

Have you been following the LPGA lately? I admit that I got consumed by the whole early part of the PGA Tour season, how it leads up to the Masters and then packs together significant tournaments like the Players Championship and the Memorial Tournament all as a lead up to the U.S. Open. I have to say that I was infatuated.

Meanwhile, Korea’s Inbee Park has been clobbering the competition on the LPGA Tour, which is quite inconsistent with her soft-spoken demeanor and lilting speech patterns. You get her in a media session and it seems she couldn’t hurt a flea. Here’s a link to her victory interview at this week’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. It’s just six minutes, but it gives you a real sense of this young woman and how incongruous who she is is with what she does. (And, as is true for most of the Korean players now, her English is quite good.) 

She won the first tournament of the year, the Honda LPGA Thailand 2013. She won the first major of the year by four shots, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, a tournament that literally drips with tradition and great champions. Three weeks later, she won the inaugural North Texas LPGA Shootout, the Tour’s return to Dallas and the state of Texas. She won the second major of the year, the Wegman’s LPGA Championship, only the seventh player in LPGA history to do that, in a playoff. And the very next week, the Walmart in a playoff.

And now comes the annual rite of passage for any professional golfer, this week’s U.S. Women’s Open. It’s going to be at the Sebonack Golf Club out on the east end of Long Island in Southampton, New York.

Sebonack is a gorgeous course designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak, the latter well known for his minimalist approach that finds the course in the land’s movement and then brings it forth as if it’s been there all along. It’s a par 72 and the USGA will have them playing it at 6,827 yards, pretty hefty compared to a typical LPGA event. Here’s a link to the Sebonack web site; it’s very well done with a number of slide shows that paint a delicious picture of what the women can expect this week. As I said, it’s gorgeous.

If you watched any of Inbee’s interview video, you can see that she seems not to be moved by much, although she does admit to being nervous just like the rest of us. She plays a lot of practice rounds with her good friend and the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open Champion, So Yeon Ryu. So when they got into a playoff on Sunday in Arkansas, she said she was nervous on 18 in regulation, but not so much in the playoff because it was like a practice round with her friend:

I mean, I’ve won a lot of times this year, but I still feel the pressure coming into the final round every time and definitely feel a lot of pressure in the playoff.  I think that’s just got to happen no matter how many times I win.  But it gets more exciting and more exciting, that’s for sure.

Except not so much playing with her friend, So Yeon:

Yeah, I mean, like I said to So Yeon when I was playing the playoff, it just feels like a practice round because I always play with her on the practice round.  Especially having played in the playoff a week before, I mean that really felt like normal to me that I have to go into playoff.  Didn’t feel much nervous.  I really felt actually nervous on the final day, final hole.  But on the playoff I felt really comfortable out there.

So in this No. 1 player in the world, we have a battle tested and battle hardened Tour veteran who has to be at least one of this week’s favorites if not the favorite. But the thing is, like the PGA Tour, there are so many good players at the top of the the leaderboard each week, you never really know who the front runner is going to be until that first round gets underway. Inbee says she’s ready:

Yeah, I mean I think I’ve just got to get this feeling going for next week too.  It’s tough to get relaxed and get refreshed for such a big week next week.  So I’m just going to try to think like it’s — yeah, keep playing like this week.  And it’s a totally new tournament next week, and the course is just going to be toughest golf course we play all year.  Just always, you know, I always love the challenge so I’m looking forward to that.

I know I’ll be watching.

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