July 29, 2013
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- The images of St. Andrews swirl through history -- from pen-and-ink etchings, to faded black-and-white photos, into the era of grainy television transmissions, right through to today's oh-so-real high-definition color.
The names linked to the Old Course form the bloodlines of a sport with roots 600 years deep, from anonymous shepherds to Mary Queen of Scots to Old and Young Tom Morris, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
The somber, stone buildings of the Old Grey Toon give St. Andrews a mystical aura, and the fact the Old Course begins and ends in town completes the chillingly spiritual sensation that you are, in fact, in THE cathedral of golf.
This ancient course links more than the farmland and pastures to the sea, it links golf to its past. This is where the history of the game began and it is where history is supposed to happen.
When the Ricoh Women's British Open was played on the Old Course in 2007 it was the first professional contest by women at the home of golf. When play begins Thursday, history will once again be at play. Inbee Park will be trying to do something no one -- male or female -- has ever done: Win four professional major championships in the same year.
The Bobby Jones Grand Slam in 1930 was comprised of the U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur, which he won at St. Andrews. And both Mickey Wright and Woods won four in a row over parts of two years, Tiger picking up the claret jug in 2000 at St Andrews during that run.
Ben Hogan won the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in 1953 but passed on the PGA Championship. Babe Zaharias won three majors in 1950 when the LPGA had only three.
Now, there is something simultaneously exciting and confounding as we prepare to toss Inbee Park into the history of the Old Course and the game itself. But somehow, when we insert the name "Park" into a sentence with Jones, Hogan, Wright and Woods, it still seems we should be talking about Willie Sr. or Jr., or even Mungo, not Inbee.
In fact, there is nothing particularly special about Park's game that should have led the 24-year-old South Korean to major victories this year at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Wegmans LPGA Championship and U.S. Women's Open.
And that lack of a distinctive quality -- she cannot overpower a golf course with her driver and does not knock down pins with her irons -- should be a beacon of hope and enlightenment for all who play the game, professional and recreational amateur as well.
Here is how Inbee gets it done: She keeps her ball out of trouble; she never loses her composure, at least not outwardly; and she can putt. All of those are skills that anyone can master with discipline and focus.
In the 216 holes Park as played in winning three consecutive majors she has only had one hole higher than bogey, a double on No. 18 in the first round of the LPGA Championship.
She has done that in large part because she hit 126 of 168 fairways -- 75 percent -- including a remarkable 51 of 56 in the U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack on Long Island.
Inbee has also averaged 28.08 putts for the 12 rounds of her triple.
And if you are looking for examples of how masterfully Park maintains her composure, there are two that stand out in her major run.
At the LPGA Championship on Locust Hill CC in Pittsford, N.Y., Park was leaking oil badly on the back nine Sunday, making bogey on three of the last five holes of regulation to finish tied with Catriona Matthew.
But in the sudden-death playoff, Inbee split the fairway three consecutive times before capturing the title with a birdie on the third extra hole. To regroup like that after seeming to let the championship slip away is remarkable.
And at the U.S. Women's Open, Park was once again on a slide, making three consecutive bogeys beginning on No. 11 in the third round. But she bounced back to birdie three of the final five holes and cruised to a four-stroke victory the next day.
Park has proven she can play links golf, finishing in the top 10 in the last three British Opens -- including second last year -- and T-11 at St. Andrews in 2007 as an 18-year-old rookie. Now she needs to do it under intense pressure.
If there is a player whose style of play and demeanor Park conjures up it is Annika Sorenstam. Annika wore down and frustrated opponents by not making mistakes. Inbee does the same thing. It's simply maddening.