She's Got Drive: Inbee Park on her major goals, cool nickname and finding happiness

She’s Got Drive: Inbee Park on her major goals, cool nickname and finding happiness

Would you rather have Nicole Smith’s length or Inbee Park’s putting stroke? LPGA player responses: NICOLE’S LENGTH: 4 percent INBEE’S STROKE: 96 percent
AP Photo/LM Otero

Last year, you won three majors — the Kraft Nabisco, the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open. You arrived at the Women’s British Open with a chance to complete the Grand Slam but tied for 42nd. Was the pressure too much?

It’s always hard for a golfer to maintain his or her skills all year long. Three months is a long time to have your game in perfect form. The week of the Women’s British Open, I just wasn’t hitting the ball well, and I wasn’t putting well. It wasn’t my best performance, and trying to handle the pressure made it even harder. I’d only been No. 1 in the world for a few months, so I was quite new to everything. I needed some time and experience. Some weeks you just don’t play well, and that was one of those tournaments.

You played the most dominant golf the game has seen since Tiger circa 2000. Do you feel your accomplishment was overlooked because you’re a woman?

I don’t measure what I did in terms of media attention. I don’t know how much exposure I got in America last year. When I go back to South Korea, it’s so different. There, I felt like I got too much attention! It was hard —  I couldn’t go to restaurants. I really like that here in America not a lot of people recognize me. I’m much more comfortable having an ordinary life. I like being a little bit under the radar.

You were winless midway through 2014, and by June, Stacy Lewis had overtaken you as No. 1. Was this a hangover after the heights of 2013?

Results-wise, it’s just tough to beat last year, so I’ve set up different goals. I pretty much achieved everything I wanted to last year. I wanted to be World No. 1. I wanted to win majors. I wanted to be Player of the Year. I did all of that. So my goals this year? To be happier, and to be more consistent with my game, so I’m not so stressed.

Being happier is an interesting goal. We tend to believe that success brings happiness. Is it not so simple?

When you try to achieve something and it doesn’t happen, you feel a bit of disappointment. At the end of last year, I was disappointed in myself.

Wait — you were disappointed after six victories, reaching No. 1 and winning three legs of the Grand Slam?

Yes, because I had set my goals too high. Now my goal is to be happy and try not to put too much pressure on myself. I’m getting married this year, so it’s a very important time in my life — not just from a golf perspective, but a life perspective.

Are you happier now?

Yeah. Even if I don’t do as well this year, my [2013] achievements aren’t going away, so I’m still happy. I’m just trying to enjoy golf, the tour, planning my wedding, and…life.

In recent years, two great players —  Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa — walked away from the game to start a family. Can you see yourself doing that?

I don’t have plans to start a family until at least after the 2016 Olympics. After that, I might have kids. If I’m still enjoying golf, I’ll still play. It all depends on how I feel at the time. Right now, I’m enjoying playing, so I’m not thinking about giving it up.

Tiger Woods has always been chasing Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major wins. You’re only 26, and you have four majors. What number are you chasing?

If you want a number to chase, you have to think of it as infinity — so you can have as many majors as you want.

Wow! Infinity majors? That’s a lot.

Well, for now my goal is to win the Women’s British Open because that’s the only major I haven’t won. So if I only win one more major, I hope it’s the British. Having a career Grand Slam would be really cool. Another important goal I have is to represent South Korea at the Olympics.

Speaking of majors, last year the LPGA made the Evian Championship the fifth major. Was that a smart idea?

I think so. Evian has been a good partner and supporter of the LPGA. Even when it wasn’t a major, it always felt like one. You’re mild-mannered.

How do you like your nickname, “The Silent Assassin”?

It sounds a little scary, but I think it means I do my job at the course, and I’m always contending. And that’s not a bad thing.

Three Things I Know for Sure, By Inbee Park

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — Golf Included

“My dad has always said, ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’ Whenever I’m going through a hard time, I remind myself that golf isn’t everything. A bad round or a bad tournament is only a small spot in a big painting. When you look back on your life, things are never as important as they seemed at the time. Don’t worry so much about the small things in life, and you’ll be happier.”

Hitting It Low Helps You Go Low

“I can hit a low ball very well. It’s a great shot to play in the wind. To hit it low, play the ball more off your right foot and stay down on it a bit. Focus on keeping your upper body more stable through impact. Take a full swing and swing normally, but also stay down on the ball with your upper body.”

The Girls Have Got Game!

“We may not hit it as far as the men or have the biggest atmosphere, but we have something different: the diversity of our players. We represent a lot of different countries. And we’re better players than people think. Come out and watch us to see for yourself!”