Inbee Park claimed her third Major championship in a row.
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park became only the second player in LPGA history to win the first three majors in a season with a four-stroke victory over I.K. Kim on Sunday at the U.S. Women’s Open conducted by the USGA.
The 24-year-old South Korean fired a final-round 74 at the Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. to finish at 8-under-par 280.
Australia's Karrie Webb finished in a tie for 13th at 5-over par while Sarah-Jane Smith was the only other Australian to make the cut.
Today’s victory was Park’s fourth-career LPGA major championship victory and second U.S. Women’s Open triumph, sets her up for a date with destiny in early August at the RICOH Women’s British Open, played at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland.
She will attempt to become the first player, male or female, to win four professional major championships in one season.
Park, who won the 2012 LPGA Official Money List and Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, is the first player in the modern era to win the first three majors in a season.
Babe Zaharias, the only other player to accomplish the feat, did it in 1950 when she won all three majors played that year – the Titleholders Championship, the Women’s Western Open and the U.S. Women’s Open. Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986) are the only other players in LPGA history to win three majors in a season, though not consecutively.
“I am just very honored to put my name by someone like Babe Zaharias,” Park said, after accepting the trophy and a champagne spritz from the last two Open champs, countrywomen So Yeon Ryu and Na Yeon Choi. “I don’t know what I just did today; it’s something very great. It’s scary to think about what I am capable of doing.”
On a hazy day where the clouds cast a shadow over Peconic Bay in eastern Long Island, Park found a way to deliver in the same steady way that she has for most of the past year.
Opening the day with a four-stroke lead over I.K. Kim, Park made the turn in 1-over-par 36, but extended that lead to five shots as Kim fired 2-over-par 37 on the same nine. A birdie by Park at the 10th hole extended the lead to six shots before back-to-back bogies at 14 and 15 reduced the lead back to four shots with three holes to play. Both Park (-8) and Kim (-4) closed with pars on the final three holes to become two of three players to finish the week under par.
2011 U.S. Women’s Open champ So Yeon Ryu (-1), who lost to her best friend Park in a one-hole playoff last week in Arkansas, was the third player to finish under par for the week.
“Believe it or not, I was very calm out there,” said Park, who became the 15th player to win multiple U.S Women’s Opens. “It was weird; I didn’t feel much pressure when I was on the golf course. I was nervous last night, but on the golf course, somehow, I felt very calm.”
Park, who led following the second and third rounds this week, was the only player to shoot under par during Saturday’s third round when scoring conditions proved to be very difficult. Her unflappable demeanor and rhythmic putting strokes are gaining wide recognition following her sixth win of the 2013 season.
“You know, it's something I thought Annika would do,” said Angela Stanford. “That's really the only player that I've played with out here that I thought would do it. So I mean, I don't know how she's doing it, but obviously I know she's a great putter and emotionally she really keeps it under control out there. I'm not sure if she hits it sideways. I'm pretty sure she hits it pretty straight. I didn't think after Annika retired I didn't think anybody would ever do it, so it's pretty impressive.”
Watching in the crowd on Sunday at Sebonack Golf Club were Park’s parents: her mom, Sung Kim, and her father, Gun Gyu Park. Her parents were not at the Kraft Nabisco Championship earlier this year when she won the first of these three consecutive major titles. But while her father wasn’t able to take part in the celebratory jump in Poppie’s Pond with Park at the Kraft, she bottled up some of the water for him. During the tournament in Hawaii two weeks after her win, Park celebrated with her father by pouring some of the Poppie’s Pond water over his head.
“But I'm not sure how much she has the pressure, but I think she's managing it really well,” said I.K. Kim. “Not many people can do that. I think she's on the right track. She's happy with her life, you know, not just golf, but she has her family together and friends and all that. So I think that's what works for her.”
One person who has been with Park throughout this amazing ride has been her fiance, Gi Hyeob Nam, a former Korean PGA Tour player. The two have been dating since 2008 and he has been her swing coach since mid-2011.
The South Korean’s ability to deliver victories or runner-up finishes over the past year has been beyond impressive. In her last 24 events, Park has won eight times and finished runner-up five times.
So in more than half of the events she’s played over that span, she’s finished first or second.
Park began her run at consecutive major championship titles at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April where she won by four strokes before leaping into Poppie’s Pond at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She continued the streak earlier this month at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, where 36 holes of regulations – and more – were needed on Sunday. Park defeated Catriona Matthew in a three-hole, sudden-death playoff to claim her second major of the season at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, NY.
“I've just done three majors in a row now,” said Park. “I think it's too early to think about the next one. I think I really want to enjoy the moment as it is in the moment. I mean, grand slam is very big. I probably wouldn't get this kind of opportunity ever again. I know this year is a good opportunity for me.”
In 32 days, Park will tee off in the first round of the RICOH Women’s British Open seeking the cement her name in golf’s history books. Only Mickey Wright (1961-62) has won four consecutive majors on the LPGA, and no players has done so in a single season. Tiger Woods is the only male to win four consecutive majors across two seasons, 2000-2001.
“But I think one of my goals for one of my goals for my career was the career grand slam, not the grand slam, but I think career grand slam is good enough for me,” said Park. “I mean, I haven't done that yet. It would mean so much if I could do the grand slam. But takes so much hard work, and it takes a lot to do. I'm just glad that I can give it a try at St. Andrews. That's going to be a great experience. Whether I do it or not, I'm just a very lucky person.”