Inbee Park leaves with good memories
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Crowds always clap for winners at golf tournaments, so Inbee Park has heard that sound a lot this year with her six LPGA victories, three of them majors.
But this week, for the first time in her LPGA career, Park felt as if folks from all over the world weren't just offering polite applause. They were really cheering for her. And that's something she'll always remember from this quest to win a Grand Slam.
My favorite part is I never had this many people rooting for me and wanting for me to play good. Never had those feelings before, so that has been nice.Inbee Park
"My favorite part is I never had this many people rooting for me and wanting for me to play good," Park said after she finished at 6-over 294, tying for 42nd on a 32-hole Sunday at the Women's British Open. "Never had those feelings before, so that has been nice."
South Korean players don't talk publicly about it, but they can't help but be aware of how English-speaking audiences/galleries/media at times tend to lump them all together. They are "the Koreans." Or even more generally, "the Asians," as if they are a monolithic presence, not individuals with their own stories.
Earlier this week at St. Andrews, Park was asked to explain the "difference between Korean temperaments and Western temperaments." It's a ridiculous question, but Park answered it graciously.
"There are calm Korean players and not calm," she said. "There are calm Western players."
And, of course, plenty of not calm "Western" players, too. The bottom line is, every player has her own distinct personality. Yes, even Park, whose placid demeanor had some fellow players joking after her victory in the U.S. Women's Open in June that they wondered if she had a pulse.
Yes, she does. Yes, she felt the nerves here at St. Andrews after getting more attention than she ever has before.
"I get to do an interview even if I shot 6-over today," Park said, smiling.
Her caddie, Brad Beecher, said, "I think people got to see more of the other side of her. Her sense of humor, the person she is away from golf."
What they didn't see, unfortunately, was the golfer Park has been most of this year. For a lot of this tournament, she didn't resemble the No. 1 player she became in April.
"I left a lot of shots on the greens," said Park, who had 40 putts in the final round and 143 for the tournament, compared with winner Stacy Lewis' 33 and 124. "The greens were really tough to judge the speed; they were great one minute, [the next] minute they were slow.
"But this has been a great experience for me. I still have a lot to learn and a lot of room to improve."
Park, who turned 25 in July, came into this event at St. Andrews with a chance at history. She leaves knowing why such endeavors have flummoxed so many greats at this game. Winning any major championship is never just about playing well. You also need good luck and for no one else to have a better week. Neither of which is in your control.
So winning four consecutive majors?
"I don't know if you'll see three in a row again," Lewis said.
That said, Park got off to a wonderful start here Thursday, getting to 6 under and expertly making putts as if she'd grown up on the Old Course. But then on the back nine of the first round, her swing got away from her. That preoccupied her to the extent that she lost her feel on the greens.
She ended Thursday at 3 under but still fully in contention. Friday, though, her 1-over round of 73 put her in a huge hole. A brutally windy Saturday appeared to give her a slim chance to rally, but then play was halted after she'd finished four holes at 1 under.
"I really wanted to play [Saturday]," Park said. "I was ready to play in the wind. I was handling myself really good out there and felt really good about my game. We didn't get to play anymore golf so ... too bad."
Park completed the remaining 14 holes of her third round Sunday morning and was at even-par. She knew then there was no chance left at winning her fourth consecutive major.
She still had 18 holes to get through, and the best putter on the LPGA Tour started that with -- gulp -- a four-putt on No. 1.
"Really tough to get your day going after that kind of hole," Park said. "You know, just glad that this tournament is over, and I've gone through four rounds under pressure.
"I enjoyed this week, every moment I was here. But it is tough to be in the center of everything for a week."
Beecher said the two didn't talk about that at all during the tournament. But when it was over, he said to her, "Please tell me you don't have anything scheduled for at least a few days. No interviews or anything. That you're going to take some time off."
Park assured him she had nothing on her agenda short of a flight home to South Korea, where she will relax for a while. The LPGA Tour is off this coming week, and then the following week is the Solheim Cup, which is between Europe and the United States.
Park said she will try to catch a little of the Solheim on television but not "hours." "I will watch when I get the time," Park said. "I think this one will be fun, so I'll definitely watch."
Fun is something that's been a relative term for Park in the past month, as she's been the focus of the LPGA Tour. Her chance at winning four majors in a row is over, but that doesn't mean she can't win four this year. That's because the LPGA Tour elevated a longtime top tournament, the Evian in France, to major status for 2013.
Asked how much attention she thinks she'll get for that event, which is Sept. 12-15, Park said, "I think it will be much less than this. But I have done something like this already, so I could do anything from now on.
"Something like this, not many people get to experience. I was the lucky one to experience this stuff."