Golf

Grand Slam even tougher this year

Inbee Park, of South Korea, is sprayed with champagne
Inbee Park, right, was a popular winner of the U.S. Women's Open.
GolfWeek Beth Ann Baldry
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SOUTHAMPTON, NY

Inbee Park’s historic win at Sebonack Golf Club brings up an interesting question: What is a Grand Slam?

What once seemed so obvious to golf fans now comes with a twist. Park’s four-stroke victory at the 68th U.S. Women’s Open on Sunday makes her only the second woman in LPGA history to win the first three consecutive majors. Babe Zaharias accomplished the feat in 1950.

When Park heads to the Old Course in St. Andrews for the Ricoh Women’s British Open on Aug. 1-4, she will be vying for her fourth consecutive major. Any other year in the modern era, that would mean she’s on the verge of winning the elusive Grand Slam.

This year, however, there are five major championships up for grabs, and according to golf historian Martin Davis, that means she needs to win all five to, by definition, win the Grand Slam.

The term "grand slam" originates from bridge, a card game in which players win tricks. When someone clears the table, they earn 13 tricks, or a "grand slam." Bridge was quite popular around the time Bobby Jones won the four biggest tournaments of his era in 1930, prompting The Atlanta Journal's O.B. Keeler to use the bridge term to famously describe Jones’ improbable feat.

“It doesn’t refer to four,” Davis said. “It refers to running the table.”

Although Zaharias won all three majors contested in 1950, the LPGA doesn’t refer to it as the Grand Slam. Sandra Haynie did the same thing in 1974, when there were only two.

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Technically speaking, those also should be considered Grand Slams, though that hardly seems fair, considering the challenge that Park faces in the modern era.

Everyone, outside of maybe the folks at Evian, can agree it’s unfortunate that Park can’t unequivocally put a bow on the Grand Slam at the most historic venue in the game. The Old Course suits her style, and she tied for 11th at St. Andrews in 2007, when she was but a shell of the player she is now.

“It would be great if I could win five,” Park said, “but I still think four means a Grand Slam. I think four out of five is very big.”

Of course, not everyone will agree with that line of thinking. Stacy Lewis, for one, contends, “you have to count them all.”

Earlier in the week, Suzann Pettersen disagreed with the notion that Park was dominating the tour. After this week’s performance at Sebonack, it would be hard for anyone to argue Park’s dominance. Lewis offered a good explanation as to why Park’s success feels different than the great stretches enjoyed by Lorena Ochoa and Yani Tseng.

“I think it’s because she’s doing everything with her putter,” Lewis said.

Park doesn’t overpower the course; she simply gets the ball in the hole faster than everyone else. And she does it with little to no emotion.

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Park walked into the media room after her four-shot victory over I.K. Kim and hoped what just happened wasn’t a dream.

“I don't want to wake up tomorrow and play the final round again,” she said. “I mean, if I knew what I was doing, I think I wouldn't be able to stand.”

Park became only the 15th player to win multiple U.S. Women’s Open titles, her first coming in 2008. She went through a small slump in 2009 as she waded through heightened expectations and increased criticism.

With a swing that’s fine-tuned by an ever-present fiance and a way with her putter that’s quickly becoming legendary, Park turned a corner during the last year and quietly molded herself into the biggest force on tour.

“She is one of the best putters I've ever seen, hands down,” Brittany Lang said. “That is where it's at.”

Park planned to go to Las Vegas next week to shop for houses. She moved from Florida to Vegas as a teenager to get lessons at Butch Harmon’s school, but in recent years moved her home base back to her native South Korea.

She’ll play in two LPGA events this month before returning to Korea and then on to Scotland for the Women’s British.

As Park posed on the 18th green for a trophy picture, a large group of Koreans stood behind the ropes holding signs with Park’s face and waving small fans. They cheered for a compatriot who could inspire the next generation of young Korean stars in a way similar to Se Ri Pak at this tournament 15 years ago.

“I don't know what I'm capable of doing from now on,” Park said. “I didn't expect myself being in this kind of position, breaking some kind of record that hasn't been broken for 50 years. I never dreamed of myself doing that. I mean, not this far, not to this extent.”

St. Andrews awaits.

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