In celebrating her 2008 U.S. Women's Open title, Inbee Park hoped that her name would be etched on the Harton S. Semple Trophy more than once. Given that she was 19 years old at the time, it was not an unreasonable goal.
By winning the 68th U.S. Women's Open on Sunday at Sebonack Golf Club, Park not only put her name on the trophy a second time, she is now being mentioned in the same sentence as the game's greatest players.
Park, 24, joins Mildred (Babe) Didrikson Zaharias as the only two women in history to win the first three majors in a season. She also becomes one of four women to win three majors in a calendar year, joining Zaharias (1950), Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986).
I think just trying to put my name next to [Zaharias’] means just so much, said Park, who won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April and the Wegmans LPGA Championship earlier this month. It's something that I've never dreamed of, but all of a sudden, I'm there. It's just such an honor to put my name in the history of women's golf.
Park completed her weeklong mastery of the 7-year-old Sebonack layout with a 2-over-par 74 and finished at 8-under-par 280. I.K. Kim also shot 74 and finished four strokes back at 4-under-par 284, while So Yeon Ryu completed a 1-2-3 Korean sweep of the leader board, closing with an even-par 72 to finish at 1-under 215.
Americans Paula Creamer (a final-round 72) and Angela Stanford (74), along with Jodi Ewart Shadoff of England (76), tied for fourth at 1-over-par 289.
Casie Cathrea, 17, co-authored the day’s low round of 2-under 70 to claim low-amateur honors at 9-over-par 297, tied for 25th.
Park admitted to nerves both on Saturday night and prior to the final round, but calmed herself by simply walking onto the course. While Kim was her closest pursuer, four strokes back, Park was also fending off history – at least for a few hours.
I knew what I was playing for, but if I thought about it for once, I probably wouldn't be able to do it, Park said. It's a great record, and [Zaharias’ record] hasn't been broken for over 50 years. I've done it, and I just can't believe it.
Kim tried to keep Sunday from being a coronation walk for Park.
I wanted to go out and make some drama, and I thought I had a good opportunity, she said. Four shots, you don't really know in a major [what can happen], but how she's playing and putting, it's just difficult.
Kim chipped into the lead with a birdie on the 428-yard, par-4 second hole, but gave the stroke back with a bogey at the drivable 265-yard, par-4 fourth hole. Park twice made consecutive bogeys – at the sixth and seventh holes and later on the 14th and 15th holes – but helped offset them with consecutive birdies at the par-4 ninth and 10th holes. Park never led by fewer than four strokes after Kim’s first bogey.
Kim, 25, is left to wonder when her name might be added to this trophy – or any other major. Kim tied for third at Interlachen and has placed among the top four three other times. This was her 11th top-10 finish in the last 21 majors, including five top-three finishes.
To be honest, yeah, it's time to win it, Kim said, but I think things have to come naturally, and it's great to play with Inbee. She's doing so well. Seeing her doing it, it just makes me want it more.
Kim, along with her fellow tour players, may need to take a number.
After winning in 2008 at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn., Park made 81 LPGA Tour starts without another victory. While she did win four times on the Japan LPGA Tour during that stretch, few doubted whether Park could break through again stateside. During that same LPGA drought, she posted eight top-10 finishes in 16 majors, including all four in 2010.
The turning point came with a win at the 2012 Evian Masters, which will be recognized as women’s golf’s fifth major this year. Starting with that victory, Park has won seven times and recorded 13 top-three finishes in 23 starts.
Park’s torrid and now storied stretch prompted Annika Sorenstam, herself a three-time U.S. Women’s Open and 10-time major winner, to say on Sunday’s television broadcast: "She can still improve in some areas and that's a scary thought."
Park will now head to the Women's British Open on the Old Course at St. Andrews in August, seeking to put herself alone in her own class. No player – male or female – has ever won four professional majors in a calendar year. Should she win at St. Andrews, there will remain that fifth major in September.
Well, I've just done three majors in a row, said Park, who also won the 2002 U.S. Girls’ Junior. I think it's too early to think about the next one. I think I really want to enjoy the moment.
Grand Slam is very big. I probably wouldn't get this kind of opportunity ever again. One of my goals for my career was the career Grand Slam, not the Grand Slam. But I think the career Grand Slam is good enough for me. I haven't done that yet. It would mean so much if I could do the Grand Slam. But it takes so much hard work.
So far, Park is making history look like anything but hard work.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.