Grand dilemma for Inbee Park
When the LPGA opted to elevate the Evian Championship to major status for 2013, it probably didn't seem like a complicated decision.
Having launched in 1994 and becoming an official LPGA event in 2000, the French tournament, which begins Thursday, has long had one of the top purses in women's golf and been one of the players' favorite stops.
Admittedly, there were rolled eyes from some golf fans and media about "creating" a new major. But considering the convoluted history of LPGA majors anyway -- eight tournaments either once were or are now considered majors -- how much would one more change really matter? Right?
No one could have guessed then what Inbee Park was going to do in 2013 -- win the first three majors of this LPGA season. After all, no LPGA player had won as many as three majors in one year since 1986. And with the tour as deep as it is, what were the odds of that happening again?
Well, Park proved they weren't as high as people may have thought. And the LPGA had somewhat of a dilemma on its hands: Now what constituted a so-called Grand Slam in women's professional golf?
Frankly, the question still lingers this week as the LPGA holds its final -- and fifth -- major championship. If Park, who won the Evian last year, repeats as champion, is that a Grand Slam? Because it would mean she holds four majors in a calendar year.
But do they have to be won consecutively for it to count as a Grand Slam? What if, say, someone didn't win the first major of the season but then won the next four? Or won two, didn't win the next, then won two more?
What if someone was injured and missed one of the five but won the other four? And what would it be called if someone won all five majors?
The answers are ... there really are no hard and fast answers.
"I think we should just call it an exceptional year," said LPGA veteran Meg Mallon of the possible scenario of Park repeating at the Evian. "I don't know why we get caught up and have to label it, because it takes away from the performance that she's had this year. If she wins Evian? Best player in the world. That's a pretty good moniker in and of itself."
Actually, even if Park were to miss the cut at the Evian, she would still be the No. 1-ranked player and it's still been a fantastic year for her. It was at this tournament, which was held in late July in 2012, where Park ended a four-year victory drought that had followed her first LPGA title, the 2008 U.S. Women's Open.
She won again on tour in October 2012 and so far in 2013 has six titles. Going into the Women's British Open in early August, Park got international attention as she was attempting to become the first player -- male or female -- to win four professional major championships in a year.
I think we should just call it an exceptional year. I don't know why we get caught up and have to label it, because it takes away from the performance that she's had this year. If she wins Evian? Best player in the world. That's a pretty good moniker in and of itself.Meg Mallon on the possible scenario of Inbee Park repeating at the Evian
However, Park ended up finishing tied for 42nd. After her final round at St. Andrews, Park seemed almost a bit relieved that the pressure of the Grand Slam talk was supposedly over, even if she truly appreciated the buzz it generated.
But should such talk really be over? Couldn't the argument be made that Park is still going for a Grand Slam, if that entails winning four majors in a calendar year?
LPGA veteran and ESPN analyst Dottie Pepper says no but acknowledges that's just the opinion she's formed.
"She's going for the start of a new Slam," Pepper said of Park. "It's four in a row in my mind. So that's gone. But she could win four out of five, so I guess we'll have to come up with some [name] for that.
"I think we're in uncharted water. If this had happened on the Champions Tour [which also has five majors], you might have something to go back to, but it hasn't happened there. So there really is no set way as to how you perceive it."
LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam, who has 10 majors but never won more than two in a calendar year, uses the same parameters as Pepper.
"I think a Grand Slam is four in a row, so it's just an odd scenario," Sorenstam said. "I think we all could agree that five would be a Super Slam, but I'm not really sure what winning three, then not winning one, then winning another is a Grand Slam. There are a lot of scenarios where I guess you could call it a Grand Slam, but I still think four in a row is how I look at it."
Some may suggest that since the Evian has just gained major status, part of the reluctance to even include it in Grand Slam talk is that it doesn't feel the same as a "traditional" major. Except, as mentioned, the LPGA doesn't actually have a consistent major tradition.
The Women's British, for instance, didn't attain major status until 2001; it seems like it gets some of its "tradition" by proxy because of the Open Championship.
Let's throw yet another curveball into the discussion: The LPGA sometimes changes the placement of majors on the schedule year to year. This year, in fact, is the first time since the Women's British attained major status that it's been played before the Evian on the schedule. From 2001-2012, the Evian often was the event that directly preceded the British.
So if the Evian had been fourth on the calendar of majors this year -- following the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women's Open -- would Park have gotten the same attention entering a new major like the Evian that she did going into the Women's British?
Is your head starting to hurt?
The bottom line is that this is a loophole that was created and has been left open when the LPGA decided to reward the Evian for being such a well-liked, well-funded and well-respected tour stop.
"I said on TV during the Women's British that, in some ways, the LPGA couldn't get out of its own way," Pepper said. "It created more of a question mark than an exclamation point. That being said, the coverage that came out of St. Andrews was like nothing that ever happened before there for that event, and that put the LPGA in a good light. We just need to do a better job of presenting or packaging the majors.
"Maybe it will be the media coming up with something the LPGA embraces or the other way around, but I feel like there has to be something because I get the sense this might not be the last time we're talking about this."