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Park can make history

South Korean golfer swinging for fourth major this season

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Inbee Park holds her trophy while her parents, Sungja Kim (left) and Gungyu Park, kiss her after she won the U.S. Women's Open on June 30.

Women�s Open golf tournament at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., Sunday, June 30, 2013. (AP Photo

SETH WENIG / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Inbee Park holds her trophy while her parents, Sungja Kim (left) and Gungyu Park, kiss her after she won the U.S. Women's Open on June 30. Women�s Open golf tournament at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., Sunday, June 30, 2013. (AP Photo

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- The cheering jarred Inbee Park from her sleep.

The 10-year-old went downstairs to find her father in front of the television in the middle of the night in Seoul as he watched Se Ri Pak become the first South Korean to win the U.S. Women's Open.

Within a week, Park wrapped her hands around a golf club for the first time, not knowing that it one day would lead her to the brink of history.

"They were doing replays every day on TV, her hitting the shot out of the water with her socks off," Park said. "It was cool to see her white feet. I didn't know what was happening, but I thought it was really cool to be seen playing golf and being on TV. Everybody was talking about it. Golf looked really fun."

Fifteen years later, everyone is talking about Inbee Park.

'If it could happen, it's something that I will never forget. My name will be in the history of golf forever, even after I die'

-- Inbee Park

A win this week in the Women's British Open -- at St. Andrews, of all places -- would make the 25-year-old Park the first golfer to win four majors in one season.

Arnold Palmer created the modern Grand Slam, winning four professional majors in one year. Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam got halfway home before their pursuit of it ended. No one has ever had a better shot at it than Park, who has won three LPGA Tour majors this year.

She is a heavy favourite when the Open begins Thursday, just as Woods was at St. Andrews when he won to complete the career Grand Slam in 2000. Park already has won six times this year -- half of those wins at majors -- and has earned more than $2 million. No one else in women's golf has crossed the $1-million mark.

"I think she can do it," Pak said Wednesday, a Hall-of-Famer revered for cutting a path for so many South Koreans. "She's dominating. Her game is strong. Her confidence is strong. All the attention is on her. Everyone thinks she can do it."

Woods and Mickey Wright are the only players who have held four professional majors at the same time, both done over two seasons. Woods won the U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship and Masters in succession in 2000-01. Wright, who Ben Hogan once said had the best swing he ever saw, won the U.S. Women's Open, LPGA Championship, Titleholders and Western Open over the 1961-62 seasons.

Wright has been watching Park on television this year and is struck by her calm.

"She certainly is an unflappable young lady," the 78-year-old Wright told The Associated Press in a rare telephone interview from her home in Florida. "She's probably the best putter I've ever seen. And I've seen some good ones. I'm hoping she can pull it off, and then win the fifth one in France. No one will ever come close to that unless the LPGA adds a sixth major."

The debate this week at St. Andrews is not whether Park is capable of a fourth straight major, but whether that will constitute a calendar Grand Slam.

The LPGA Tour, not nearly as established or well-funded as men's golf, designated the Evian Championship in France as a fifth major this year. The Grand Slam -- the one Palmer created in 1960 on his way to St. Andrews -- has always been about four majors for more than a half-century.

"It's pretty incredible to win the first three," Woods said Wednesday at the Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio. "It's really neat to see someone out there and doing something that no one has ever done, so that's pretty cool."

The Grand Slam in golf was first mentioned in 1930 when Bobby Jones won the four biggest events of his era -- the British Open, U.S. Open, British Amateur and U.S. Amateur. The term came from contract bridge -- winning all 13 tricks -- or a clean sweep.

Slam or not, there is little debate that Park can do something no one else has in the modern game.

"If it could happen, it's something that I will never forget," Park said.

"My name will be in the history of golf forever, even after I die."

Her pursuit began with a four-shot victory in the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She won the LPGA Championship in a playoff over Catriona Matthew, and then took one giant step closer to history with a four-shot win at the U.S. Women's Open.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2013 D4

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