FRESH from receiving a brand-new Ferrari as a present, Inbee Park is hoping to stay in golf’s fast lane this week by earning a place in the record books at St Andrews.
Victory in the Ricoh Women’s British Open will see Park become the first player, male or female, to win four majors in the same season after arriving at the home of golf with the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Weggmans LPGA Championship and US Women’s Open already in the bag.
With due respect to Scotland’s 2009 winner Catriona Matthew, the world No 1 is the main show in the Auld Grey Toun but, if she’s feeling any added pressure, it certainly wasn’t evident in her pre-event press conference, which Park conducted with class and aplomb.
She talked about the weight of expectation on her shoulders as the Korean nation waits to see if she can earn a place in golfing folklore and how that was providing both “inspiration” and “motivation” for the task ahead on the Old Course.
Park also identified Matthew, the player she beat in a play-off for the middle of those major wins earlier in the season, as a potential threat when the gun goes off tomorrow and expressed surprised that her rivals included only other Scot in qualifier Carly Booth.
What was most impressive, though, was the way she talked about handling such enormous pressure and admitted that she’d set up her attempt at making history in the Royal & Ancient game by not raising her own expectations too high heading into any of those aforementioned events.
“To have this kind of opportunity is very special – it’s an experience I’ll remember forever,” admitted Park, who has chalked up six victories in total this season. “If it happens, it’s something I will never forget. My name will be in the history of golf forever – even after I die.
“There is pressure on me, I know that, but, if pressure is something that comes with playing good golf, then that’s something I need to handle. I’m getting a lot of attention from everywhere, especially back in Korea, where everybody is expecting me to play well. I’ve got so many people praying for me, so many people wishing me luck; it’s amazing how many people are on my side. It really gives me a lot of good energy, motivates me and gives me inspiration to play well this week.
“At the US Open I tried not to put pressure on myself. I kept thinking, ‘You know, it’s okay if you don’t win’. I’d already won five times and thought, ‘Just wanting more is wanting too much’. I thought, ‘There’s no expectations, go out there and just have fun’. That really worked, so it’s something I’m also trying to do this week.”
Visiting the media centre at St Andrews before her, world No 2 Stacy Lewis spoke about how she thought a happy environment off the course was contributing to success on it for Park. “When they are travelling, you always see her and her fiancée holding hands – they are very cute together,” observed the American. “You can tell she’s very happy in her personal life and, more than anything, that’s showing in her golf game.”
A good temperament has also played its part in Park’s remarkable run of success. “I know my emotions don’t express much on my face, but that’s been my personality since I was a little kid,” she revealed. “That’s just how I play golf and I think it helps a lot when your emotions are calm as you play the game a little bit more consistently.”
Between winning the US Open at Sebonack and arriving in Fife, Park made a trip home to Seoul, where she received confirmation of her growing fame as well as a couple of nice gifts as a reward for her achievements so far this season. “When I arrived home, there were so many people at the airport and, walking down the street, a lot of people were recognising me,” she said. “Also, at a toll gate, a lady was giving me a ticket and asked, ‘Oh, are you Inbee Park?’ It’s cool to be recognised and to have a lot of fans.
“I didn’t buy anything for myself when I was back home, but I got a couple of very good presents when I was there – a new red Ferrari and a gold putter!” Which one did she like best? “Both,” she added, smiling.
On the gigantic Old Course greens, Park is expecting to be using her less flashy normal putter “a lot” this week. If the wind becomes a factor, as it often is here, then that won’t be a worry for the hot favourite as she bids to follow in the spikemarks of Lorena Ochoa, winner of the historic first women’s professional event to be played at St Andrews in 2007. “I hit the ball with a low flight so that could be to my advantage while the course really suits my eye,” noted Park, who finished joint-11th behind the Mexican on that occasion.
“The year Lorena won was my first year on Tour. She was just unbeatable. For her to win at St Andrews was a special memory for her and it would be the same for me, too.”