Inbee Park hopes to emerge from shadows in U.S. at Founders Cup

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 22: Inbee Park of South Korea hits a tee shot on the sixth hole during round four of the Hugel-JTBC Championship at the Wilshire Country Club on April 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Harry How/Getty Images

Inbee Park hopes to emerge from shadows in U.S. at Founders Cup

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Inbee Park hopes to emerge from shadows in U.S. at Founders Cup

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Inbee Park might be the most underrated player in golf.

Even when she dominated the LPGA Tour – such as 2013 when she won three majors in a row – Park didn’t get the attention she deserved. What she has done the past three seasons as essentially a part-time player has been outrageously good.

She played in 38 events from 2016 to 2018, winning twice on the LPGA in addition to the Olympic gold medal. She has five top-10s at the majors in her last nine starts. She nearly won a major in that stretch too, losing in an eight-hole playoff at the 2018 ANA Inspiration to the unheralded and unrelenting Pernilla Lindberg.

Still, on this side of the world at least, she mostly operates in the shadows.

Park sounded half asleep when she got on a conference call from her home in Las Vegas, jet-lagged from her first start in Singapore. At this week’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup on the Wildfire Golf Club course in Phoenix, she’s the defending champion.

Her body has held her back in recent years. She once called it an expensive lesson, learning how to cut down her schedule. This year the 19-time LPGA winner skipped February’s Thailand event in the hopes that only one start in the extreme heat would keep her energy levels higher for the West Coast swing.

Many wondered if Park, 30, would even keep playing after getting into the LPGA Hall of Fame. No one could’ve predicted that she’d fare so well on an intermittent schedule. She has made a habit of coming out cold and walking into the winner’s circle.

“I have been kind of in and out of the tour,” said Park, “and, you know, when I was not playing the tour, I really missed the tour, and I really know what I want to do. I realize how much I didn’t appreciate what I was doing.”

And here’s the warning signal to the rest of the tour: “Now I think I’m really ready to focus again.”

Park competed in 13 events last season from March to September with four top-3 results and six top-10 finishes.

She hasn’t won a major since 2015 and is overdue. Her seven majors – including three straight at the KPMG Women’s PGA – puts her in a tie for seventh on the all-time list with Karrie Webb.

Part of Park’s low-key profile is admittedly due to her low-key personality. While she’s one of the best putters the game has ever seen, there’s not much of a “wow” factor in her day-to-day approach.

“You don’t even know if she has a pulse out there half the time,” said Paula Creamer after Park won her third major in 2013. “Doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot, I think I’ve seen her actually smile maybe 10 times.”

When Park became the youngest player to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame, Stacy Lewis was asked what she respected the most about her game.

“Just that she did it without – not much of a show,” said Lewis. “She just went out there and played golf. And didn’t need the entourage or all the glitz and the glamour of it. She just went out and played golf and stayed the same person throughout the whole thing.”

It’s an admirable trait to be sure, but not necessarily a headline-grabbing one.

Park plans to play more in 2019. Somewhere between 15 to 18 LPGA events and 20 to 23 overall with her South Korea commitments.

Staying healthy is her No. 1 goal.

She’d need four more major titles to surpass Annika Sorenstam, who leads the way among the modern greats. And while Park feels that her 2012 Evian Masters title counts, she hears it from plenty of people that she must win it again to fulfill the career grand slam.

“I don’t want to be burned out so early,” said Park. “I really want to keep this enjoyment going because I want to play longer.”

Park has nothing left to prove. But plenty of attention left to gain. Gwk

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