SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Inbee Park was 19 when she became the youngest player to win the U.S. Women’s Open, not very experienced at golf or at life.
She had much to figure out after a victory that hinted at so much promise, and it took more than four years of sagging under pressure and tinkering with her swing before the South Korean earned another title.
The talented teenager from 2008 has now blossomed into a dominant veteran, the favorite heading into the U.S. Women’s Open, which starts today. Ranked No. 1, Park has won the first two majors of the year and her past two tournaments.
And she’s at peace with her game and her world.
“The weeks that I’ve been having recently, I don’t think I really need to think about golf outside the golf course,” Park said. “I’m just very happy when I’m off the golf course.”
She’ll take on Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island, a course playing host to its first major. Sebonack, designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak, opened in 2006 with views of the Great Peconic Bay. Its big bunkers and undulating greens offer a links-style challenge. The fairways are broad, but just landing the ball in them may not do much good; placement could be crucial.
“It feels like the last few U.S. Opens, it’s all been how straight you can drive the ball, and that is kind of who has won the tournament,” said second-ranked Stacy Lewis. “So I like this year that you don’t have to drive it perfect off the tees, but you’ve got to play smart into the greens.”
Park has relied on her clutch putting to win five times already this season and seven of her past 23 starts dating to last year. She suspects her strong short game was the one silver lining to her longtime struggles with pushing her tee shots to the right. She estimates she was missing nine or 10 greens per round, so she spent a lot of time trying to save par.
Her drives straightened out, Park has gone from saving pars to making birdies.
Tournament officials will keep a close eye on the weather report, with strong winds expected, to decide on pin placement. Sebonack might be new to golf majors, but the challenges from the local conditions are well known. When neighboring Shinnecock Hills played host to the 2004 U.S. Open won by Retief Goosen in the wind, nobody broke par in the final round.
“I think this course, par is your friend,” said Yani Tseng, who has five major titles but has yet to win a U.S. Women’s Open.
Park predicted a few three-putts, knowing players will need to stay patient and calm. She’s been doing that better than anyone lately.
“I’m trying to enjoy where I am,” Park said, “and trying to keep this going as long as I can.”