Women’s British Open: Inbee Park aims for fourth straight major title


South Korea's Inbee Park is joined by her parents, Sungja Kim, left, and Gungyu Park, after winning the U.S. Women’s Open in June. (Seth Wenig/AP)

This much is neat and tidy: Inbee Park will tee it up Thursday at St. Andrews, the home of golf, for the first round of the Women’s British Open, beginning her quest to win her fourth consecutive major championship. No golfer, man or woman, has won four straight modern majors in the same season. It is a significant pursuit.

This, however, is murky: In another year, should Park succeed, she would be credited — universally and automatically — with winning the “Grand Slam,” all four majors contested in the same year. She won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April, the LPGA Championship in June and the U.S. Women’s Open later that month.

But before this season, the LPGA Tour — in an effort to draw more attention to a thin schedule — designated the Evian Championship, played annually in France, as a fifth major championship.

Park, for her part, believes she is pursuing the Grand Slam this week.

“Not many people, not many golfers get that kind of opportunity, winning three majors and going for a calendar Grand Slam in a British Open and such a great golf course and such an historical golf course,” Park said in a conference call with reporters in July. “I think I’m just very lucky to have that kind of opportunity. I think I should be very appreciative where I’m positioned.”

So, too, should the LPGA Tour, which could use Park’s pursuit to draw attention to a tour that has struggled to support a full schedule in recent years. Park, from South Korea, is just 25, and following her win at the U.S. Women’s Open on Long Island, she did a full-fledged media tour of New York, something not afforded LPGA stars in recent years. There is, she acknowledged, pressure in her pursuit.

“I try to take the positive side of it,” she said. “I mean, pressure is not the easiest thing to handle on the golf course. Not just [in Korea] but I feel like the whole world is watching me. So I mean, that’s something I never got that kind of attention before. It just feels very awkward to me at the moment.”

Only two players have won the LPGA Tour’s version of the Grand Slam, and they were both truncated versions. In 1950, the year the women’s tour was founded, Babe Didrikson Zaharias won the U.S. Women’s Open, the Titleholders and the Western Open — the only three tournaments designated as “majors” that season. In 1974, Sandra Haynie took both the U.S. Women’s Open and the LPGA Championship, but it was one of 10 seasons in which only two majors were staged.

On the men’s side, Tiger Woods has come the closest to winning the Grand Slam, holding all four major titles at the same time — the 2000 U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, followed by the 2001 Masters. Only five male golfers, including Woods, have won all four modern majors in the course of their careers.

Park begins the first round of the British Open at 2:03 a.m. EDT on Thursday with Jodi Ewart Shadoff of England and Beatriz Recari of Spain. Jiyai Shin, who won last year’s Women’s British Open by nine shots over runner-up Park, plays at 6:48 a.m. with American Morgan Pressel and Scotland’s own Catriona Matthew.

Park, too, has professed a fondness for the Old Course at St. Andrews, where the women last played in 2007. And if she fails to win at St. Andrews, she’ll — oddly enough — have another shot at a fourth major in September at the Evian Championship.

“How could you not feel the pressure in the type of situation I’m in?” Park said. “But I’ve played [good] golf until this point. I’ve won six tournaments, three majors. Even if I didn’t win any more, I’m very happy for this season. How could you ask more [than] that? Wanting more majors, wanting more wins, almost feels like I think I’m being too greedy.”

Barry Svrluga is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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