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Park Joins List of Dominating Players on LPGA Tour
Inbee Park isn't the only player to leave her fellow competitors in the dust on the LPGA Tour. Over the decades there are have been several dominant players, dating all the way back to the 1950s.
Among the greats who've preceded the 24-year-old, who's won five tournaments and the first two majors of this young season, are Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, JoAnne Carner, Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Lorena Ochoa and Yani Tseng.
But the South Korean isn't ready to equate herself with these players, though she certainly looks up to them. "I really admire them, where they were positioned, how they handled that kind of pressure," Park told reporters Tuesday. "I think they've done such a great job of handling that pressure and playing under the pressure.
"I think it's something that's very good. Yeah, I'm trying to do that. It's not the easiest thing. I've got to do a lot of things on the golf course, off the golf course that is a bit different and different to things that I've done before. Just a lot of things that I have to do, but a lot more pressure on me, but this is somewhere that I've always wanted to come. Yeah, I'm trying to enjoy where I am and trying to keep this going as long as I can."
Despite believing she's not quite there, Park is the favorite heading into this week's U.S. Women's Open, which starts Thursday at Sebonac Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. In the first round she's in the marquee threesome with the two players following her in the world golf ranking, No. 2 Stacy Lewis of the U.S. and No. 3 Suzann Pettersen of Norway.
Here's what Park had to tell reporters during her sit-down with them at Sebonack.
MODERATOR: Thank you for coming back. We're at the 68th U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack Golf Club at Southampton, New York. I'm pleased to welcome 2008 U.S. Women's Open champion Inbee Park with us. Inbee, to say that you're having an amazing 2013 is, I think, an understatement. What has the last few months been like for you?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, it has been great for me. I've played very good golf the last two or three months. Yeah, everything's been going the right way. Everything's going the way I really want it to. I'm hitting the ball and striking it great and putting it very well. Especially last week, I striked the ball very well, and that gave me a lot of confidence coming into this week. I'm having two wins before this week, yeah.
MODERATOR: Have you played golf any better than you are right now?
INBEE PARK: I don't think I have. This is the best I'm playing in my career so far. Yeah, I'm trying to keep this going.
Q. I'm sure you've probably over the years seen some women dominate the game in the last decade or so with Annika and then Lorena and Yani most recently. Do you feel like you might be headed in that direction? Did you observe those players as they were doing that and wonder how they could sustain it for so long?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I mean, I really admire them, where they were positioned, how they handled that kind of pressure. I think they've done such a great job of handling that pressure and playing under the pressure. I think it's something that's very good. Yeah, I'm trying to do that. It's not the easiest thing. I've got to do a lot of things on the golf course, off the golf course that is a bit different and different to things that I've done before. Just a lot of things that I have to do, but a lot more pressure on me, but this is somewhere that I've always wanted to come. Yeah, I'm trying to enjoy where I am and trying to keep this going as long as I can.
Q. As the pressure builds, what do you do? Is there an exercise or anything that you do to prepare yourself for performing so well under pressure?
INBEE PARK: I have a mental coach in Korea, and I talk to her every week before the tournament, during the tournament and try to talk to her and try to get a little bit of the pressure off. She's been helping me a lot. Since after the U.S. Open, I've been working with her. Other than that, I think there is no way that you won't feel the pressure, because you will always feel the pressure, but it's just the more you experience it you just feel it a little less and less over the time. Now when I'm in the position where I am and when I'm in the winning position, and I've been there a lot, so it's just knowing what I have to do. I think that's been a big help for me.
Q. Just on the same subject of how you keep yourself relaxed off the course, I remember at Wegmans you told me that you had a big day set up that Na Yeon was going to cook for you at her house. How did that go? What was that like?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I had a week off at Na Yeon's house after Wegmans. And, yeah, she cooked Korean food a couple of days and her manager and her trainer cooked also. I mean, we try to help each other in cooking. I mean, we were professionals, but we were close enough that I had a pretty good food there. And where she practiced was great, and I had a great time there.
Q. It seems you have a good relationship. Even your closest competitors are your good friends. How do you stay friends with them?
INBEE PARK: You've just got to really separate yourself from the golf course and off the golf course. On the golf course, you might be playing against them, but they are very good friends off the golf course. So I mean you really just have to separate yourself from when you're in the playing mode or you're not in the playing mode. Yeah, just outside the golf course, they're just friends. On the golf course they're somebody I have to beat, but that's golf. That's competition, and that's just got to happen. Sometimes she's going to play better, sometimes I'm going to play better, and that's just, I think, always going to happen.
Q. A little off the subject, but American players and European players have the Solheim Cup. Would you like on to see there are so many great Asian players, would you like to see a Presidents Cup style match, and how do you think that team would fare?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I mean, that kind of team play is a little bit different for us. I think to experience something like that would be great for us. I think it's going to be a lot of fun. A lot of friends get together and play golf together as a team. I think it's going to be something very different, and I think it would be very fun. Yeah, I wish we had something. But we have the International Crown next year, so looking forward to that.
Q. Inbee, can you tell me about your schedule a little bit? Do you try to cut back a little bit more now that you're winning more to be able to focus on the majors, or do you pretty much play in every tournament and keep charging?
INBEE PARK: Well, I try to play every tournament on the LPGA schedule. I'll probably end up missing two or three events at the end of the year. Yeah, I'm not playing as much independents anymore. Last year I played a little bit over in Japan, but this year I'm really going to focus on playing LPGA tournaments and tournaments over here.
Q. There have been so many dominant women over the last ten, 20 years, starting with Annika and Yani, and there don't seem to be as many men that completely dominate the way they have. Do you have any thoughts on why that might be?
INBEE PARK: I think that's just the nature of the LPGA Tour at the moment. I think there are just so many competitive players out here who are able to win every week. I think the field is just getting stronger and stronger over the years, and now, yeah, there are just so many players that are just so good. It's tough to win a lot of tournaments here.
Q. During this stretch that you're on, is there - are there a couple of common denominators, other than putting, which obviously you've been doing beautifully, that you can put your finger on as to why you've had this run of success?
INBEE PARK: Yes, because after the Open I was having a lot of trouble with my tee shot, missing it right, push type of balls. But, yeah, I fixed it a lot the last couple of years and I was able to hit a lot more fairways. I think that's been a big help. I've been giving myself a lot of opportunities for birdie, whereas before I was almost putting for pars all the time. But now I have a lot of opportunities at birdies. My long game I think has improved a lot more.
Q. As a follow up, what in particular are you driving?
INBEE PARK: I had an early release from the downswing, but I worked with my fiance and tried to bring that downswing down a little bit deeper and not release as early as before. Trying to concentrate on the follow through. I think that's been working very good.
Q. How did you get to be such a good putter?
INBEE PARK: I honestly think because I've missed so many greens and fairways after the Open, I was just hitting it everywhere. I had to get it up and down from everywhere. I think that's where it came down to. I've improved a lot on my short game, because I had to hit it out of so many places. I had to make it up and down to make a par. I probably missed nine or ten greens per round every round. I was hitting it horribly after the U.S. Open. Trying to get up and downs from everywhere gave me a lot of focus. Yeah, I think just very good concentration and just experience on the clutch putts. I've putted a lot of those before, yeah.
Q. How old were you when you moved to Las Vegas and what was that transition like? It seems that Las Vegas is a hard place to move to from anywhere, but what was that like for you?
INBEE PARK: Well, I think because we really wanted to move to the west side because it was closer to my home, to Korea. The main thing was that I was going to the Butch Harmon school back then when I was in high school, so that was the main reason why I moved there and trying to play golf there.
Q. When you said you started working with a mental coach after the Open, was it the '08 Open or last year's Open?
INBEE PARK: '08 Open.
Q. And what is her name?
INBEE PARK: Sookyung Cho.
Q. I'm sure your conversations have changed in recent weeks. Can you just talk about how she's helped you deal with going into a major where you're the favorite this time, and you've won the last two, and how you're mentally coping with all that added pressure?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I mean, she tried to - she tried to let me focus on something like one thing on the golf course. You know, not to think about something else. If it's red, just think about red. That is just an example. Whatever I'm thinking on my swing, that's all I think about on the golf course. Yeah, just trying to focus on one thing. Sometimes she tells me that I have to think when I was playing very bad, what I was thinking. I was happy that I made a cut. Trying to go back and think about what you were thinking before, that's been helping me a lot.
Q. After leaving Las Vegas, how much money would you put on yourself to win this week?
INBEE PARK: I don't know. I don't know. I know I'm the favorite, but there are 156 players out here trying to win and trying to play for this trophy. I mean, I don't know.
Q. Hard question. I apologize. The second one, how does the course set up in general for you with the wide fairways and being a second shot course?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I mean, the wide fairways, the tee shot is the easiest part on this golf course, actually. Second shot is quite tough with the slopy greens. You just don't know where the ball is going to roll out to. You've really got to know the greens very well and really place the second shots in the right positions. There is a lot of thinking going on on this golf course, I think. Playing so many different tees and the greens are just very undulated. It's just going to be a very big challenge this week. I think we're going to have some three putts here, but I think you have to take your medicine and try to be really patient on the greens here.
Q. Speaking of the importance of second shots, it seems like that's kind of the word on this golf course and that's where you have to excel. What have you done to work on that part of your game, your approach shots and into the green?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I mean, if you missed a green, you go quite far away from the pin here. So it's almost impossible to get up and downs from certain spots. There are certain spots that you can't really miss to. You've got to miss to the right side. Yeah, I mean, you've really got to know the greens better. You've got to ride the greens where it's sloping, and you've got to be able to hit where you want to.
Q. How many times have you played this course? How many visits have you had here?
INBEE PARK: This is my first time. Today I played the back nine first time. Yesterday I played the front nine. Today I played 18 holes. So I'm trying to get twice before I go into playing.
Q. In terms of how you relax or get away from golf, you have your fiance, you play the piano, what is really most important for you to help break from the pressures of golf?
INBEE PARK: Well, I'm actually - I think I'm really good at forgetting about golf when I'm off the golf course. I don't think about golf once I'm off the golf course. So didn't really have to do anything to forget about it. But I just, when I go home, I just feel very relaxed and watch some TV. Yeah, I mean, I don't think about golf as much when I go back home. The weeks that I've been having recently, I don't think I really need to think about golf outside the golf course. I'm just very happy when I'm off the golf course.
Q. Given the importance of slopes on the greens, how much have you and your caddie relied on the digital mapping of those greens? Does that help you? Does it get in your way? Not just the yardage book, but the second book, the digital mapping?
INBEE PARK: I didn't get to see the second book. My caddie looks at the books. I don't look at the books.
Q. Would you rather be the favorite coming in or would you rather come from behind and be the underdog?
INBEE PARK: I mean, I have won a lot of tournaments coming from behind, so, I mean, I would think going into the final round as a leader is the better position. I mean, you have an advantage over others. So I think I can I kind of like both, but you definitely have less pressure when you're going from behind, yeah.
Q. You definitely seem like you are very, very happy and at peace with not only your golf game but just your overall approach, and that's got to be helpful coming into a pressure packed situation like the U.S. Open.
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I've had a lot of wins this year and that's definitely taken a lot of pressure off of me. Coming into this season after last season I was really doubting myself if I could do as good as last year, but I've done a lot better this year. Yes, I mean, that's just been putting a lot of pressure off of me, and it's just been helping my game a lot. Yeah, not feeling as pressured as before.
Q. How did you - I know you told us before when you first started playing amateur tournaments that you didn't even know how to ask to tend the pin. How did you get so good at English? Did you watch American shows? How did you improve so much?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, when I first came to the States, my mom wouldn't let me go back to Korea for a couple of years, two or three years, because she wanted us to speak English all the time and not speak so much of Korean. We love watching Korean TV shows, but she stopped us from watching Korean TV shows, trying to watch American movies and trying to listen to American music, and trying to get used to the culture and it helped me a lot. Obviously, going to school with no Korean kids was, yeah. I couldn't speak Korean when I was in school because we only had my sister and I in the school that were Korean.
Q. Do you have a favorite movie?
INBEE PARK: I like "The Notebook" movie, yeah.
Q. You mentioned playing this course only twice before Thursday. Is that your normal preparation for a new venue at a major?
INBEE PARK: Well, I have tried coming to the course, the Women's Open course before, and I've only done that once before. That was my worse finish, so I just tried to come show up for the week and have a couple of practice rounds. Just try to get to know the course when I'm here. I mean, when I was here like a month before, you try to see the course like a month before, it's a little bit of different conditions. So I think it's just best to see the course right before the tournament.
Q. What was that course that you visited prior to the U.S. Open? Which course was that?
INBEE PARK: It was 2009.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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