SAMMAMISH, Wash. – For a player who has won 17 times on the LPGA, with seven of those being major championships, this rather ho-hum 72 might have been Inbee Park’s most impressive performance.
Playing with a sore left thumb – and even more distractingly, the wincing anticipation of the discomfort at contact – the 27-year-old South Korean gutted her way to a one-over-par round that gained her official entry into the LPGA Hall of Fame, which has one of the most difficult qualifying standards in all of sports.
Park earned the required 27 points to get into the Hall at the CME Group Tour Championship last November when she locked up the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average. She earned one point for each of those 17 wins, another for each of those seven majors, one for each of her Player of the Year awards and then the Vare.
All she needed next was to complete 10 years on tour and that came in Thursday’s first round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. She is the youngest to qualify for the LPGA HOF.
Her name now rests next to some contemporaries she idolizes, including Juli Inkster, Karrie Webb, Annika Sorenstam and, of course, the godmother of Korean golf, Se Ri Pak, who in 2007 was the last player to earn her way into the hall.
“I dreamed of myself being up there [with them},” she said, “but this is surreal. I just have to keep playing.”
That’s not something everyone thought Park would continue doing. There were those who felt that because of the injury and her interest in starting a family she might walk away from the game after qualifying for the HOF.
But she seems determined to win this tournament for a record fourth consecutive year.
“I’m here to win,” she said when asked if she could be victorious given her sore thumb. “I fight with the injury and I believe I can overcome the pain. Today, I definitely saw some sunshine.”
That sun shone extremely bright through the first 11 holes as Park played them in two under par. But then, perhaps because of the fatigue of not having played much recently or because the thumb was bothering her more than she’s letting on, she made three bogeys over the last seven holes.
But now she is a member of a very exclusive club, and she cherishes the honor.
“This is truly amazing,” she said. “I feel so blessed. I’m a very lucky player.”
On Thursday she proved she is not only lucky and good, but also tough. On her special day Park played some special golf. And wouldn’t it be remarkable if she capped her special week with a victory.