Last week Inbee Park was given a Ferrari on a short visit home to South Korea but on Thursday she will have her eyes on an even more valuable prize when she tees up in the 2013 Ricoh Women’s British Open, played over the Old Course at St Andrews.
The 24-year old from Seoul arrived in the Home of Golf having won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the Wegmans LPGA Championship and the US Women’s Open to date this season and if she can succeed compatriot Jiyai Shin as champion at the Ricoh Women’s British Women’s Open she will claim a major slice of history that may never be repeated again.
When Park won last month’s 68th US Open at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, New York, she joined Mildred (Babe) Zaharias as the only woman to win the first three Majors in a single season. She also became one of four women to win three Majors in a calendar year joining Zaharias (1950), Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986) and this week she has the chance to usurp them all with a victory on a course where she finished tied 11th on the first occasion the Ricoh Women’s British Open was held on the Old Course back in 2007.
The Scottish public are primed to be part of golfing history this week in the Auld Grey Toon but Park herself seems utterly at ease with her central role in the drama.
“Obviously, it tougher to play under pressure than without the pressure,” she told the world’s media after competing in today’s pro-am. “But this is what I love to do, and if the pressure is something that comes with playing good golf, that’s something a professional golfer has to handle, something I need to handle for doing something I like
“It’s much better than playing in the first group out, when nobody is watching. Everybody is expecting me to play well and I have got so many people praying for me, so many people wishing me luck. It’s amazing how many people are on my side and I think that gives me an advantage.
“It really gives me a lot of good energy,” she added. “It really motivated me and gives me inspiration to play well this week. It’s huge everywhere, I can feel it wherever I go.”
Park admits that she never dreamt of being on the cusp of joining the legendary Bobby Jones by winning a Grand Slam.
“”I didn’t really think about doing a career Grand Slam in my career…ever,” she said. “It’s something I never dreamt of achieving … to the point of where I thought it was impossible. It would be doing something impossible, I think.”
The South Korean will have to attempt the impossible against one of the strongest fields ever assembled for a Ricoh Women’s British Open. There are 23 past Major champions in the field who have won 51 Major Championships between them. There are 19 out of the top 20-ranked players on the official Rolex World Rankings and it would have been 20 out of 20 but for the fact that Ariya Jutanugarn had to withdraw after undergoing shoulder surgery
One of the other favourites to win come Sunday is World No.2, Stacey Lewis, last year’s Rolex Player of the Year on the LPGA Tour, who finished tied-8th behind Jiyai Shin last year at Hoylake.
Lewis did not play back in 2007, the first time the Ricoh Women’s British Open was played over the Old Course, but the following year she emerged with a 5-0 record on the course as the US beat GB & I by 13-7 in the 2008 Curtis Cup. To date, it remains the only occasion that a Curtis Cup player on either side has compiled a perfect five out of five record in the biennial matches.
“It’s cool to be back in St Andrews. I have a lot of great memories,” she said. “I played a practice round yesterday with Alison Walshe. “We played three matches together during that week and won them all. We kind of went back and talked about the shots we hit, holes we won matches, things like that.
“I remember a lot of the course, which is nice because normally coming into the British Open, I don’t know the golf courses.
I definitely like it,” she added. “I definitely do. Compared to a lot of the other links courses I have played, it’s a lot more fair. You hit a good shot, you’re rewarded for it. There’s bunkers in the right places for missed shots but for good shots, you’re going to get rewarded, and I like that.”
Lewis goes out in the second match at 6.41 on Thursday morning together with Japan’s Mika Miyazato and Karrie Webb, the Australian who won last week’s ISPS Handa Ladies’ European Masters at The Buckinghamshire Golf Club.
In the two of the other key groups, Inbee Park tees up at 7.03 am, alongside English LPGA player Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Spain’s Beatriz Recari, while defending champion, Jiyai Shin, waits until 11.48 am before teeing off alongside America’s Morgan Pressel and Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2009.
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