CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Scotland’s own Catriona Matthew summed up the difficulty of links golf thusly: “If there’s no wind, none of them are overly difficult.”
That’s precisely why a pair of Koreans – the trailblazer Se Ri Pak and her protege Inbee Park – carded 8-under 64s July 29 on a track locals call Car-nasty. There was nothing nasty about Friday’s blissful weather: sunshine, pleasant temperatures and not a puff of wind.
Park, 23, sits at 10-under 134 heading into a weekend that’s forecasted to bring even more pleasant conditions. She leads Pak by two strokes and World No. 1 Yani Tseng by three.
When Pak won the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run, Park remembers her parents’ loud cheers waking her up in their apartment outside Seoul. She wandered into the living room half asleep to watch Pak forever change the landscape of sport in Korea. Two days later she followed her father to the range and carved out dreams of her own.
At age 12 she moved to Eustis, Fla., enrolled in a small Bible school and became a fixture at USGA Championships. Ten years after watching Pak’s victory, Park won the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen.
Park finished eighth on the money list in 2008 and felt heightened pressure heading into her third year on tour. She fell to 50th on the money list in ’09, with only two top 10s.
“I think anybody would’ve felt the pressure,” she said. “Even with the pressure I wouldn’t want to give the trophy back.”
As the LPGA’s schedule began to shrink, Park’s parents came up with the idea of supplementing her schedule with Japan LPGA events. Park got her card in Japan for the 2010 season and got off to a rough start. In the second event of the year, she shot 8 under in the final round to win by one stroke, only officials wouldn’t let her sign for that number. Park received a two-stroke penalty in the scoring area for an infraction on the first hole. Officials deemed Park’s ball had moved after she addressed her par putt, though Park felt otherwise. She wound up tied for second, and sat in the clubhouse stunned.
She flew back to the U.S. and finished second at the Kia Classic and 10th at the Kraft Nabisco. Then returned to Japan and lost in a playoff before winning the following week.
“To get over something like and get on with it takes a lot of mental guts,” said Park’s caddie, Brad Beecher.
Park won twice in Japan in 2010 and opened this season with a victory on Okinawa. She’s currently 10th on the JLPGA money list having played in eight events. Beecher said Park could play in as many as 32 events combined in 2011. Beecher said playing in Japan helped his boss “big time.”
“I really like the full schedule,” said Park, who would stick to an LPGA schedule exclusively if the tour had 30 events to choose from. “I don’t get the rhythm.”
Park’s record in the majors doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Last year she finished in the top 10 in all four majors. Since Park joined the LPGA in 2007, she has played in 18 majors, missing the cut only once. She has eight top 10s, including a T-6 three weeks ago at The Broadmoor.
“The tougher the course, the bigger the event, the more concentration maybe,” said Beecher. “She just feels really comfortable.”
When Park won the U.S. Open at Interlachen three years ago, Pak missed the cut at that event for the first time in her career. This week, however, the pair will likely be playing together over the weekend.
“It’s a great honor,” Park said.
Well worth getting out of bed at 3 a.m., all those years ago.