Part of the immense pleasure we get from watching the first three men’s majors of the year is how unlike each course is from the other two. This year, for instance: Augusta National (a garden) followed by Merion (a riddle) followed by Muirfield (a wind chamber). Well guess what? The first three women’s majors do all that, and more. Which makes Inbee Park’s achievement -- winning three straight majors this year -- even more remarkable.
She won the old Dinah Shore tournament, aka the Kraft Nabisco, in early April at the Tournament Course at Mission Hills, a 1970 Desmond Muirhead track in the California desert that is a minefield of prickly bushes and manmade ponds that requires, more than anything, distance control with irons.
In May, she won the Wegman’s LPGA Championship on a tree-lined, old-fashioned country-club course outside Rochester, Locust Hill, where the players must drive the ball in play on tree-lined holes bordered by sticky spring rough.
Last week, she won the most important tournament in women’s golf, the U.S. Women’s Open, on a modern course, Sebonack, that is wildly inundating and beautiful. A gal could get distracted out there. She didn’t.
It takes a solid golf game, and a flexible mind, to win on such different courses, in such different weather conditions, with so much on the line.
All of that is remarkable prelude to the most fortuitous bit of golf timing in forever: in the first week of August, Inbee Park will travel to Scotland to try to complete the Grand Slam on the grandest course in all of golfdom. The Women’s British Open is being played on the Old Course.
Park has already made golf history. If she doesn’t hit another ball all year, winning those three events, on those three courses, means you have to rank her 2013 campaign right alongside what Tiger Woods did in 2000 and what Ben Hogan did in 1953. What she can do now is put up a year that will become a grail for all time, like Bobby Jones’s 1930 Grand Slam, when he won the U.S. and British Opens and the U.S. and British Amateurs.
Jones won the ’30 Amateur on the Old Course. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak, the Sebonack designers, both have logged many rounds there with Doak as a caddie, Nicklaus as a golfer, winning the 1970 and ‘78 British Opens there. Seymour Dunn, who designed Locust Hill, was a Scotsman who knew well the St. Andrews links and brought a touch of the old country to everything he did in the United States. As for Desmond Muirhead and St. Andrews, the Englishman visited the Old Course, disliked it and never took any inspiration from it, save the 18 holes thing. Another thing to make Park’s win on his course noteworthy.
Much has been said about the many Parks from South Korea playing on the LPGA tour these days. It should be pointed out that Park is a royal golf name. Mungo Park, of course, won the 1874 British Open at Musselburgh, down the road from Muirfield, where the men’s Open will be played later this month. His brother, Willie Park, won an Open and so did Willie’s son, Willie Park Jr. Mungo and Inbee, together forever!
She’s a unique talent, this Inbee Park. I first watched her closely at the 2008 U.S. Open at Interlachen, where she won the first of her four majors, and was struck by a backswing that was actually shorter than Scott Simpson’s, winner of the 1987 U.S. Open. She has a strong grip, takes it back inside and open, then goes straight up, with very little lower body turn. She has a strong left-hand grip, in the tradition of Paul Azinger, and really turns her right hand over hard at impact, like Laura Davies. But she has no umph in her swing. She drives it only about 230-240 yards. Like Annika Sorenstam, she seems not to be looking at the ball at impact, though she is. It’s not exciting. All it is is deadly.
Her putting game is the stuff of dreams. She puts left-hand low with beautiful rhythm, and she looks like she’s trying to die everything in the front of the hole. The relatively slow greens of the Old Course may present a little bit of a challenge for her, but the beauty of her game, as she has shown with such stunning clarity this year, is that she can make adjustments with the best of them.
Correction: Not with the best of them. She can make adjustments better than any of them, on either side of the aisle. Inbee Park. She’ll make you forget all about Mungo.