LOS ANGELES — Inbee Park is atop the Rolex Rankings again.
While a player moving to the No. 1 ranking is hardly a stop-the-presses moment, Park’s second-place finish at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open means a fourth time atop the rankings. She replaces Shanshang Feng, who retained the top spot for 22 consecutive weeks.
More impressively, Park sets a new mark for length of time between stints atop the ranking. Her span of 2 years, 5 months and 29 days is the longest stretch between stints by over 16 months (Stacy Lewis previously held the record at 1 year, 1 month and 19 days.)
“It’s good to be back, obviously, in the No. 1 spot,” Park said moments after nearly making hole-in-one at Wilshire Country Club’s par-3 18th in an unsuccessful effort to catch Moriya Jutanugarn. “That really wasn’t my goal playing this year; it just came as a present. So it’s great.”
Park first became No. 1 on April 15, 2013, but gave up the position to Lydia Ko in October, 2015. Upon returning to win the Olympic Gold Medal in Rio, Park stopped playing for another extended period. Not surprisingly for a player who has accrued more than $14 million in career earnings, Park’s game returned in steady fashion through 2017 when she recorded a win and five top-10s before shutting down her season after the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Following that layoff, she returned to win the LPGA’s 2018 Bank of Hope Founders Cup and suffered a heartbreaking playoff loss at the ANA Inspiration.
So how does the 29-year-old maintain such high standards with so many long layoffs? Her friend and fellow competitor So Yeon Ryu, playing two groups ahead at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open, explained.
“To be honest, I think she’s a genius,” Ryu said. “About golf she’s a genius. And another thing, she never really thinks too much.”
Ryu says she jokingly asks Park how she can put her clubs away while everyone else is grinding, working out, refining their nutrition programs and rarely taking a vacation.
“People really never know how tough it is to get back on track after having a six or seven-month break,” Ryu said. “But she’s always been good at it and people just automatically think, of course she’s good at. We all expect it.”
Park’s final round at Wilshire featured her trademark brilliance but also some surprisingly sloppy play off the tee and even around the greens, highlighted by a basic chip at the par-4 eighth. She left herself a downhill 5-footer for par that was missed. On the back nine, a strange 9-iron shot from just 111 yards at the short par-4 15th sent her ball well over the slender green.
“I was really in between clubs there, and couldn’t hit the other [club]. It was going to be in the bunker,” she said. “So I had to control with the 9-iron. But I pulled it a little bit and then it just flew too much.”
Just like her roller-coaster ride atop the Rolex Rankings, Park made a spectacular up-and-down and nearly won the tournament with a last-hole shot to within 18 inches of the cup. Park putted out to let Jutanagarn have the last putt.
“I didn’t give up until the end, but she played very solid,” Park said.