Five years ago Inbee Park was trying to win her fourth major in a row at the Ricoh Women’s British Open and I sat dumbfounded in a half-empty press room at the Old Course. What does this woman have to do to get some attention?
Even at the Home of Golf the dominant Park wasn’t receiving the recognition she was due.
Perhaps that’s what made last Friday night in Pyeongchang so special. Park was one of the final torchbearers at the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics, and as she ran in carrying that flame in her right hand and waving to the masses with her left, all the world could finally appreciate what she has accomplished.
No one deserved it more.
The LPGA Hall of Famer and 2016 Olympic gold medalist doesn’t show much emotion when she plays. She’s poker-faced, steady and stoic. But as she settled into her stride and broke out into a wide smile at the Olympic Stadium, she was clearly moved by the enormity of it all.
South Korean icon Se Ri Pak also took part in the ceremony as one of eight athletes who carried in the South Korean flag.
Park called into the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive on Wednesday and used the word “unbelievable” several times to describe the experience. She also used the world “lucky” twice when asked about winning the gold medal in Rio. There was nothing lucky about that phenomenal feat – coming back from a months-long layoff due to injury. It was yet another example of the seven-time major winner’s understated brilliance.
The 2016 Olympics elevated Park to another level of celebrity in golf-crazed South Korea.
“Not just people who always watch golf,” she said, “but people who never knew about golf start to recognize golf and start to recognize me.”
Back in 2013, Park was given a red Ferrari FX – on loan – for winning the first three majors of the year. Before coming over to Scotland for the British, a toll booth attendant recognized her in South Korea.
“Oh, are you Inbee Park?” she asked.
It startled Park, who at that point could walk around Seoul mostly unnoticed wearing street clothes. The attendant, by the way, still took Park’s money.
Perhaps now she’d get a free pass.