EDINA, Minn. - As a long line of photographers calls out, motions for Inbee Park to raise the trophy this way and that, asks her to kiss it several times, the 19-year-old Korean, who started golfing because her parents woke her up at 3 a.m. in the morning one long ago night with cheers, finally looks flustered for the first time all day.
"Put one hand under the trophy like this," one photog pleads. Park noticeably sags. "Do you want to set it down for a moment?" someone finally calls out. Park nods gratefully. And just like that, the U.S. Women's Open trophy gets softly placed on the 18th green.
Park may find the actual hardware heavy, but the swing that brought the crown (not to mention a $585,000 first-place check) never buckled all day. In fact, Park turned the most pressurized tournament in women's golf into her own walk in the park.
After chipping in from off the green for a birdie on No. 1, after sinking a 12-footer for another birdie on No. 2, a second-year LPGA Tour player with no prior wins found herself in control of the Open with her final round less than 25 minutes old. Park never let go, either, shooting a 2-under 71 on a day when the big names near the lead - Paula Creamer (5-over 78), Helen Alfredsson (2-over 75) - kept falling farther and farther back.
With the wind picking up at Interlachen Country Club, on the first truly all-sunny day of this Open, Park played unswayed as everyone else with a real chance, or even an outside chance, fell apart. That group included Annika Sorenstam, who needed an eagle that sailed over the pond and bounced several times before dropping into the bottom of the cup on 18 - a moment that Sorenstam's playing partner Cristie Kerr called "the best shot I've ever seen, ever" - to even break 80.
That dash of old Annika magic produced the loudest roar heard all week at Interlachen, and it wasn't even close. In fact, the roar just kept building and going, bringing to mind for the first time the crescendos that became almost regular at Torrey Pines South during the men's Open.
They didn't cheer like that for Park, even when she lifted the trophy. But Park is too calm to care anyways.
"I never had to calm her down once," Park's caddie Brad Beecher said, shaking his head. "Not once playing for the U.S. Women's Open on the final day. But then, I never have to calm her down. She just doesn't let pressure get to her.
With the wind picking up at Interlachen C.C., Inbee Park played unswayed as everyone else with a real chance, or even an outside chance, fell apart.
"That was the difference between her and everyone else this week. She's just mentally stronger."
Beecher shook his head and laughed. It's almost a little freaky to see Park, this short girl who no one paid attention to as she went 72-69-71 the first three days, putting herself in position without ever making any noise, walk around like Sunday at the Women's Open is no big thing.
"She didn't even give a first little fist pump until she hit that (par-saving) putt on 10," Beecher said. "And even that was a little fist pump. I'm talking little."
By then, with her final round little more than half over, Park had already essentially wrapped up the U.S. Women's Open. She led by at least four shots almost the entire back nine, and that's how many she finished ahead of Alfredsson in the end. Angela Park, In-Kyung Kim and Stacy Lewis tied for third at 4 under, five shots back of Park's winning 9-under 283.
"I really can't believe I just did this," Park said. "Especially with all those big names on this trophy that have been so very, very successful in golf."
How much doesn't Park seem to fit in with legends? She's a player without any endorsements. She walked around Interlachen wearing shirts from a friend's design collection and a barebones, plain white hat with LPGA simply stitched on it.
Now ... well, this figures to be one changed life.
"I've got to ask her about that," Park said of whether she'll at least get a little money to wear her friend's shirts from now on. "I don't know about doing that anymore (for free). Yeah."
Park never thought of golfing until she found herself getting awaken from her sleep by her mom's and dad's screams as a 9-year-old. When she came to the living room of their house just outside of Seoul, Korea, the elementary school-aged Park found her parents cheering for countrywoman Se Ri Park who'd just won the U.S. Women's Open - and triggered a South Korean golf movement in the process.
"I didn't know anything about golf back then," Park said. "But it was very impressive for a little girl just looking at her.
"I just thought that maybe I could do it, too. So, I picked up a golf club for the first time a couple of days after that."
Now Park has kicked Se Ri Park out of at least one record book. Guess who the previous youngest winner of the U.S. Women's Open ever was?
Not that this triggered some wild celebration from Ms. Calm. Park only raised her arms. Once. Of course, then her friends Jeong Jang and In-Kyung Kim came running in to douse the new champion with two bottles of Budweiser.
Beecher, the caddie who'd never been on the bag for any winner in any event in seven years on Tour, got it even worse. A group of caddies tossed him into the lake on 18.
Yes, even Park's caddie celebrates crazier than her.
Creamer forced herself to watch as the trophy table and podium was set up on the 18th green. Creamer, the fourth ranked player in the world with six career wins, knew she'd wasted another major opportunity.
Coming into the day one shot out of the lead, Creamer went 5-over on the front nine, including a double bogey on nine in which she airmailed the green and then pitched over it from the rough. She finished six strokes back.
"This is the most disappointed I've been in a long, long time," Creamer said.
Park has no such regrets. Now if only everyone will stop asking her to hold that heavy trophy.
June 30, 2008
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Anyone looking back at the final scores of the 2009 Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's will almost certainly come to the wrong conclusion that this was a comfortable three-shot win for Catriona Matthew. It was anything but as the seemingly imperturbable Scot struggled to hit a fairway throughout the final round and was only rescued by some superb recovery shots and a bunch of astonishing long putts.
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