This week Inbee Park will tee up at the Ricoh Women’s British Open attempting to win the only women’s Major that has eluded her to date.
The South Korean turns 26 at the weekend and she would like nothing better than to celebrate this anniversary by burying the memories of what happened to her in this Championship at St Andrews just under 12 months ago.
Park arrived at the Home of Golf last year on the cusp of greatness only to see her plans to complete the traditional women’s Grand Slam scuppered by the vagaries of the Scottish weather.
She went into the Championship as the only player in the modern era to win the first three Major Championships of the season (the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the Wegmans LPGA Championship and the US Women’s Open) but found herself at the wrong end of the draw and could finish no better than in a share of 42nd place.
“It is just one of those things that happen,” the delightful Park told the worldwide media after completing her final practice round at Royal Birkdale.
“Last year I think I got the worst of the weather on at least three days out of the four but that can happen when you come over here to play links golf. Last year I got the worst side of the draw but hopefully this year I’ll get a little bit luckier.
“I’ve been waiting for this tournament all year because this is the last Major Championship I need to win the Grand Slam.”
Last summer Park found herself at the centre of a worldwide media circus as she rattled off one Major victory after another but this time she arrived in England’s Golf Coast a bit more under the radar and that’s a situation she rather likes.
“Last year I was the centre of attention which in one sense was nice because it meant I was doing well,” she said. “But this is a bit more relaxing. It’s more like a normal tournament.
The Korean cites her putter as the culprit for winning only one tournament (the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic) to date this season but is convinced the touch that has helped her to win more than $2 million for the last two seasons is slowly coming back.
“I think my ball striking has been better than last year but my putting hasn’t been so good. I’ve been trying to go back to last year’s stroke. I felt it coming back in Canada when I won. After that for a couple of weeks I didn’t putt very well but it’s definitely getting better.”
Another player who has experienced more than her fair share of putting problems is the newly-appointed Dame Laura Davies who this year plays in her 30th Ricoh Women’s British Open as a professional on a course she where won the title all the way back in 1986.
“It has been very frustrating,” she said. “Last Saturday and Sunday down at the Buckinghamshire I had 37 and 38 putts which is ludicrous and is like giving away 15 or 20 shots to the field. It’s a real problem but it’s my problem to solve.
The veteran English player may have found salvation in a putting lesson she had after arriving at Royal Birkdale. “They had some computer stuff out there yesterday and we worked out that my alignment was wrong,” she explained. “When they asked me to line up to the centre of the hole they found I was four degrees out. I made a little alteration to my grip and managed to hole a few more after that.
“Only time will tell if it solves the problem but it’s something to work on,” she added. “I think pace is my biggest problem. Maybe you start to lose your feel as you get older. I don’t know what it is but it’s really holding me back.”
Davies is frustrated by her lack of recent success but has no plans to call it a day any time in the near future. “I still love it,” she said. “I’m really one of the luckiest people in the world to play a game that I love and I’ve not given up the chance of winning again. I’m not saying this week. I’m not saying next week but in my own mind I still believe I’m good enough to win.
“I feel as if I’m 21 rather than 50,” she added. “I have a bad heel at the moment so I’m walking like a 50 year-old or a 60 year-old but the enthusiasm is still there and as long as it is I plan to carry on.”
Another player who does not lack enthusiasm is 18 year-old Charley Hull who goes into the Championship as the No. 1 on the Ladies European Tour money list and with as good a chance as anyone to emulate Davies and win her first Major Championship at Royal Birkdale.
She is out at 6.52 am tomorrow (Thursday) morning alongside defending champion Stacy Lewis and Japan’s Ayako Uehara but will certainly not be overawed in such exulted company after what can only be described as a meteoric rise to the top of the game. “I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “I enjoy all of it really. I’m only in my second year as a pro. I haven’t really experienced any downs yet and I’m hoping to do well over the next few days.”
Another teenager with lofty aspirations is New Zealand’s Lydia Ko who last year shared the Smyth Salver as leading amateur and has since turned professional and claimed her first winning cheque on the LPGA Tour.
17 year-old Ko has taken to Tour life like a duck to water and believes she has worked out a strategy to help her claim her first Major title. “Last year I thought a lot about playing in the Majors and that’s probably why I didn’t play as good as I wanted to. I put pressure on myself so this year I’m trying to think of them as just another tournament.
“I’m just going to have fun but if the moment comes I’d be happy to hold a Major trophy.”