Park targeting a piece of golfing history at the Women’s British Open
South Korean bidding to become the first player to win four professional Major tournaments in the same year
Inbee Park of South Korea talking to the media after she had played in the pro-am for the Women’s British Open on the Old Course at St Andrews. “All of Korea are watching me and they are very proud of me. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images
Inbee Park’s historic season is evidence that new narratives spring from some other narrative’s end. Last month at the US Women’s Open, Park became the first LPGA golfer in the modern era to win the first three Majors in the same calendar year.
Less than two weeks later, the South Korean golfer Ok-Hee Ku was found dead in Japan of an apparent heart attack at age 56.
Ku was a trailblazer on the LPGA Tour, paving the way for Park and scores of other South Korean golfers who have transformed women’s golf over the past 15 years.
A decade before Se Ri Pak made golf a popular pastime for young girls in her homeland by winning two Majors as a rookie in 1998, Ku made the LPGA Tour a possible dream for her countrywomen.
In March 1988, four months before Park was born, Ku became the first South Korean winner on the LPGA Tour, at the Standard Register Turquoise Classic in Phoenix.
She sealed the victory with a 12-foot par putt, her proficiency on the greens matched by Park, who has turned the 20-footer into a veritable tap-in en route to winning six times this year.
This week Park, 25, will attempt to blaze her own trail. With a victory at St Andrews, she would become the first golfer, male or female, to win four professional Major championships in the same calendar year.
Bobby Jones won four Majors – but two of them were amateur events – in 1930.
“Putting my name into the history of golf, I mean, all of Korea is watching me and they are very proud of me,” said Park recently. “Not many people get this kind of opportunity.”
In the 1970s, a decade before Park was born, a woman’s place on South Korea’s golf courses was as a caddie. Ku was in her late teens when she took a job carrying bags at a course outside Seoul, South Korea.
A few months into the job, she played golf for the first time, and enjoyed it so much she spent her free time on the course practicing.
In May 1978, she turned professional and became one of the first members of the nascent Korea LPGA. Two years later, Ku won all five tournaments during the KLPGA season.
Her victory total stood as the single-season record until 2007 when Jiyai Shin, the defending women’s British Open champion, claimed nine of 18 tournaments on the Korean circuit.
In 1984, Ku became the first South Korean to win on the women’s tour in Japan. Emboldened by her success there, Ku turned to the United States.
She earned her LPGA playing privileges for 1986 by advancing through qualifying school and spent seven years in the United States making friends and influencing a generation of girls back home.
After the 1992 season, Ku returned to Asia. As recently as 2005, she was one of the top players on the Japan women’s tour. Park recalled crossing paths with Ku once, at an event a few years ago. “She was one of the first ones to go to the world-class level as a Korean woman,” she said. “She showed us that she could do it.”
So much attention
Unlike Park, who has received so much attention she said, “I feel like the whole world is watching me,” Ku did not gain much notice in the wake of her history-making turn in Arizona as Seoul was busy focusing on the hosting of the Olympics later in 1988.
Even in Japan, where she won 23 events, she toiled in the considerable shadow of Ayako Okamato, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Ku was the first player inducted into the KLPGA Hall of Fame and also served a term as the tour’s president.
Pak, a 25-time winner on the LPGA Tour who started playing golf at age 14 in 1991, took up the game as Ku’s playing days in the USA were winding down.
But Park moved to the US with her family when she was 12 so she could become more proficient in golf and English.
After a decorated amateur career, she burst onto the professional scene at age 19 with a victory at the 2008 US Women’s Open but did not win another LPGA Tour event until the 2012 Evian Masters.
She credited her success this year to her mental coach, Sookyung Cho, and to her fiance, Gi Hyeob Nam, a professional golfer who helped her refine her rhythmic swing.
Park, the runner-up at last year’s British Open at Royal Liverpool, arrives at St Andrews on destiny’s wings. The course is where Jones opened his historic Grand Slam run in 1930 with a victory at the British Amateur.
After her victory in Phoenix, Ku never won again on the LPGA Tour. But if not for her story, Park may not be authoring history in her own time.
New York Times