Inbee Park finds her comfort zone on LPGA

 Inbee Park of South Korea

Inbee Park of South Korea

As much as success in golf relies on a strong mind, oftentimes it’s a happy heart that makes all the difference.

Take, for example, Lorena Ochoa, who walked away from an incredible career when she had to leave her heart back in Mexico each time she went to work. Ochoa fell in love with her now husband Andres Conesa, and, because he was busy running an airline, hectic schedules kept them apart. Ochoa’s game, her attitude on the golf course and her passion all changed dramatically as the World No. 1 wrestled with how to balance her new life.

Inbee Park got engaged to her longtime boyfriend, G.H. Nam, last summer. 2012 is the first full season that Nam has traveled with her each week. (Before that, she had an aunt with her.) Is it merely a coincidence then that Park is having her best season to date? Not likely.

“I feel a lot more comfortable,” Park said via phone from South Korea. “I feel a lot more at home when I’m out touring.”

Nothing against the aunt, but the “happy energy” Park gets from having Nam by her side has vaulted her to the top of the LPGA money list. Last Sunday, Park holed out from 60 yards on the 72nd hole to move into solo second at the CN Canadian Women’s Open. It was quite the lucrative shot as Park reaped the benefits of winner Lydia Ko’s amateur status, taking home the first-place check of $300,000.

The Canadian Open marked Park’s eighth consecutive top 10 this season, including her second career victory, at the Evian Masters. She has finished runner-up three times.

“If I play the way I am playing right now,” Park said, “I think anything is possible.” She won't play next week at The Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Va., but will return to the tour the following week for the Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England.

Like Ko, Park knows what it’s like to achieve a great deal of success early. Park appeared in three U.S. Girls’ Junior finals, winning in 2002. She placed in the top 5 in 18 of 25 AJGA appearances and, at age 16, finished fifth in 2005 at the LPGA Takefuji Classic.

Park turned pro in 2006 at 17 and, two years later, became the youngest player to win the U.S. Women’s Open, at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days.

She never would have imagined that four years would go by before she’d win again on the LPGA.

“I had a really good junior and amateur career, so I thought the LPGA would be really easy,” Park said. “It didn’t really happen that way.”

As the pressure began to mount and the LPGA’s schedule began to dwindle, a frustrated Park took her game to Japan. She has played on both tours for three seasons, winning four times on the JLPGA. She’ll play a total of 32 events this year.

Born in Seoul, Park moved to the U.S. at age 12 to pursue the LPGA. She practiced together with Nam on the driving range in California, where she lived before moving her home base back to South Korea.

Nam played on the Korean PGA until becoming Park’s full-time swing coach. Together they worked on Park’s follow-through, helping her better shift her weight to the left side and lead through the ball with her left hand. The result: She misses fewer shots to the right.

Also of note: Park leads the tour in putting. She needed only 22 putts on Sunday at the Evian, a truly magnificent display of short game.

“It felt more than four years,” Park said of her victory in France.

Park had to rework her goals for 2012 after the Evian breakthrough. “I never had two wins on the LPGA same year,” she said. “That’s first goal.”

She’s smiling wide, but far from satisfied.

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