Inbee Park at the CME Group Titleholders

I was originally going to write about Lydia Ko’s coming out party at the CME Group Titleholders at the Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida — her interview in the media room was smashing… was endearing…was compelling. But after reading Inbee Park’s transcript, I had to go with her.

The reason was because she was so successful and so laid back during the two-month sweet spot of her year, it made us wonder if she was ever going to lose a tournament again. But when you read her transcript, we are treated to a rare, deep probing of the thoughts and feelings of a great champion. 

She won the first three majors of the year and at that point started thinking about winning the Player of the Year Award, her singular goal for the year. No Korean had ever won it; it would be such an honor to be the first, such a soaring accomplishment. Instead, the stress of coming so close almost ruined her year for her:

I was very stressed about the Player of the Year award after the U.S. Open since it was getting closer and closer, because at first I had the huge lead and I thought it was mine.  After that it was just getting closer and closer, I became more anxious.  I think I was just so stressed about it I just didn’t want to think about it anymore this week.

That was the main reason I really wanted to finish it off last week.  Looks like everybody on the Tour is having so much fun at this end-of-year events because there’s no cut and we travel all around the world and there’s greatest events of the year.  Yeah, it felt like I couldn’t really enjoy the time because there were a lot of titles, there’s something I really wanted to achieve, but yeah, this week [now that she’s won it] I can really enjoy myself and enjoy the end-of-year schedule.

The internal turmoil for her finally came to an end at Lorena’s tournament in Mexico. Suzann Pettersen was charging hard at the end of the year, but fell just short of Player of the Year.

I think last week I really tried to free myself and it was almost coming to the end, I only had two tournaments left.  Suzann still had to play so good to beat me.  I tried to tell myself that I can do it.  Over last two, three months I think I was just thinking about how Suzann was playing.

I was thinking so much about what ifs.  I tried not to do that last week and just tried to enjoy a little bit more.  I just kept telling myself that it’s going to be over after this week, it’s going to be over after this week, you’re going to be free next week.  I just kept trying to think positive.

When she failed to win the British Open to clinch her fourth major of the year, it relieved a lot of pressure, but it also created a risk of losing her edge. Beyond that, the whole Grand Slam chase became a sort of false idol; it wasn’t what she really wanted. Because each victory increased her chances at the brass ring, she became subsumed by it. All she really wanted was to be happier than she was last year.

I think that’s, yeah, the main reason was I think I was just getting more anxious.  I win six tournaments already.  The Grand Slam wasn’t in my goal of what I want to achieve this year, but that just became my goal.  I don’t know why it became my goal.  I think a lot of people just made it become my goal.

My goal was just to be happier than last year, that’s all I really asked for.  I think I was just getting more anxious and wanting more and more since I achieved more.  I think that’s been the main reason that I couldn’t play as well, and trying to put too much pressure on me.

While she was accumulating her major titles, we all assumed that she knew something we didn’t about playing tournament golf in a state of calm and grace. Turned out, in the moment, she didn’t. She was just going for happiness. But it gave her a keen understanding of where calm and grace comes from.

Back then I didn’t really think about how many wins I want to have or what I want to achieve.  I pretty much had no goal back then.  I think that is why I was able to play good because I just wanted to play week by week, not by the stats, not by the numbers.  I just wanted to be happier.  I think that’s really the main reason I played well, I think, really.

All that success caused a whole new dimension of learning to occur: how to accommodate, how to live with, the demands on a “superstar.”

I think I am still learning.  There is always not enough time to learn, I think.  I really don’t think I’ll get used to living — I don’t think I’ll ever get used to living a superstar life.  It’s really hard. There’s a lot of tough parts about it.  You can’t go outside without makeup or you can’t just — especially in Korea a lot of people recognize me like even going to dinners.

It’s just tough to stand and think that everybody’s watching you.  It just feels so weird still.  I’m still not used to it.  I’m trying to get there and trying to play well under the pressures and under the circumstances, but yeah, I still need more time to prepare for it.  I think I’m slowly getting there.

One of the things that boosted her to a great year was the competitive push that Suzann Pettersen and Stacy Lewis provided. The incessant presence of those two kept Inbee constantly focused and always trying to move up. But it ultimately taught her the greatest lesson any of us can have, just be yourself.

Yeah, I mean, of course I think it’s always nice to have a competitor behind or in front of you to have a goal or trying to play better than somebody.  I think it’s always nice to have a rival.  Especially this year Stacy and Suzann have been very good competitors for me and they really pushed me to play better.  I think if it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I’ll be able to achieve what I achieved so far because they made me realize how much I really wanted to stand here [as Player of the Year].  So yeah, that’s definitely.

But honestly, I don’t really want to think about Suzann or Stacy next year anymore because I’ve been thinking about them so much this year.  But it has been happening like that same because last year I thought about Stacy, I mean, like I watched Stacy playing so much and I thought maybe this year I’m not going to think about her as much as last year, but this year has been the same.  Hopefully next year I can play good golf and I can be myself.

With the arrival of Lydia Ko, Inbee was asked to reflect back on her debut as a teenager and why she went into a prolonged slump after her U.S. Open victory. She talked about the rude awakening she had when she discovered just how good the professionals are.

I actually was, I think when I came on the Tour as a teenager, I came when I was 18.  So as a teenager I thought probably I am the best player in the world and you come out here and everybody’s as good as you or even better.  It just took a while for me to realize that there is much more great golfers than me and I still need to learn a lot more.

Yeah, I missed many cuts on my rookie year actually.  I played in LPGA tournaments as an amateur like 15, 16 year old and I finished Top 10 probably a few times and I thought yeah, this feels easy and I can probably finish Top 10 every week once I get on there.  That’s what I really thought.

Once I went there and I started missing probably like one-third of the cuts and looking at the players that are playing so much better than me, in golf there’s times where you play so well and there’s times where you can’t figure out what’s wrong.  It was tough for me to make me realize how many players are in front of me.  There is a long, long mountain, like high mountain that I need to climb.  That just took some time for me to get used to the Tour and get used to the thought that there is a lot more to learn.

If there was a letdown in her losing her chance to win the British Open and four majors in a row, there was also the upside of the two frenetic weeks that led up to it. It was a real roller coaster ride.

Well, I mean, that experience will be definitely something I won’t be able to forget.  I might not get that kind of — I might not get the opportunity I had this year, probably maybe might not get it forever in my golfing career.  So this moment will be memorized in my head forever, that’s for sure.

I think there was — I try to take the fun out of it and I try to think that it was such a nice experience, not everybody get to do that.  It was tough times that I went through this year.  This year has been like a roller coaster for me.  It has been like going up and like going down and it’s slightly coming up again.  It’s always fun to ride the roller coaster.  I’m trying to enjoy the ride.

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