Impact 10:No. 8 Inbee Park
Inbee Park acknowledges the capricious nature of golf when she says she may never have another year on the LPGA tour like 2013. Not for lack of practice, or talent, or desire … but just because this is a sport where so many random things can go wrong.
An unexpected gust of wind here, an inexplicably odd bounce there, and you might lose a precious stroke. That may be all it takes to keep you from another trophy.
Which is why Park said after a six-victory season that had amazing ups but some inevitable downs, "I'm trying to enjoy the ride."
No one had more of an impact on women's golf this year than Park, who became the first LPGA player since Pat Bradley in 1986 to win three major titles in a season. Park, 25, brought the tour unanticipated publicity with her run at the grand slam, which fell short at the Women's British Open in August after she had won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women's Open.
Just as she was influenced as a child by countrywoman Se Ri Pak's breakthrough triumphs, Park is now inspiring many people, especially in her native South Korea.
"Everything has been strange for me because I didn't really expect any of that," Park said of the fanfare she received when she returned home this year. "Whenever I'd go to restaurants, the main chef came out and was cooking for me, and he's asking me how the food is. I get, like, VIP service, so it's weird."
She's earned it, though. Several women's golfers from South Korea have been successful, but none had been LPGA Player of the Year until Park earned that honor in 2013. At the LPGA's season-ending awards banquet in November, Park thanked Suzann Pettersen and Stacy Lewis – who are second and third behind her in the world rankings – for how they have helped push her to be better.
That's Park's personality: Shy, but friendly off course; a gracious, even-tempered craftswoman on it. She's a precision player who is one of the best putters in professional golf. Her deft touch on the greens had long been evident, but she's now combined it with better distance and accuracy off the tee.
Park, who won a tour-best $2.45 million in prize money in 2013, said something else has made a big difference in her results: She has found a generalized happiness. For that, she pays gratitude to her friends, family, caddie Brad Beecher and fiancé Gihyeob Nam.
She said of Nam during her player-of-the-year speech: "He took a tremendous risk when he decided to stand by me and support me on the tour. Despite not speaking English, he made a decision to move to a foreign country with only one thing: faith in me."
Park had made that move to the United States herself at age 12, after starting in golf when she was 10. Her mother instructed her to immerse herself in American movies, television, books -- anything that would help her learn English. Park is now very fluent, and thus was able to share things about herself with English-speaking media and fans as she became so prominent a story.
Among the things we learned about Park were her love of all dogs, how much she missed her own canine best friend back in Korea, and how intimidated she initially was by the attention she received this year. But she accepts that she must stretch out of her comfort zone to represent the LPGA.
Oh, and we also found out her "dream" playing partner. Asked what celebrity she would want to play a round of golf with, Park chuckled and said, "Maybe … Brad Pitt?"
Who knows, perhaps that's something she could aspire to do in 2014.