PHOENIX, Ariz. – Inbee Park sort of sneaks up on you. She doesn’t have the kind of swing that knocks your socks off. And if you looked at only her body language during a round you’d have no idea how she’s playing, she’s that placid. But she does three things really well: She keeps her golf ball out of trouble; she keeps her composure and she makes putts.
That will win you a lot of golf tournaments. Inbee just quietly conquers courses. On Sunday, Park put down the hammer on the back nine by ripping off four birdies in a row beginning on No. 12 to win the Bank of Hope Founders Cup by five strokes over 54-year-old Laura Davies, Ariya Jutanugarn and Marina Alex at 19-under-par 269 with a closing 67. In Gee Chun and Megan Khang tied for fifth at 275.
Think of what Park has accomplished: At the age of 29, she has 19 LPGA wins; seven majors championships – including four of the five majors – and an Olympic gold medal. And at age 27 she became the youngest to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame, which might be the most difficult HOF to make in all of sports with its points system. Oh, and she’s so big at home she was a torchbearer at the recent Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.
How does she do it? With the kind of consistency that makes the sunrise seem like an erratic event. The one word to describe Inbee is balance. She is simply never out of balance on a golf course, either physically or emotionally. Park missed only six fairways all week; hit 60 of 72 greens and needed only 115 putts, just 55 on the weekend. Park seems to hit only two kinds of putts: Those that go in and those that almost go it. On Sunday, when it mattered most she was at her best.
“I didn't expect to win very early [in the season], I mean obviously, after a long break,” Park said. “In Singapore, I felt like my ball striking was quite good I and just needed to work on the putter a little bit. It has worked pretty good this week.”
That’s an understatement. On Saturday, she played the first five holes six under par as she backed up a 29 with a 34 for 63 that gave her the lead going into the final round.
One of her country mates, In Gee Chun, closed with a 66 to get in the clubhouse at 13 under par while Park and Davies still had the entire back nine to play. Park made the turn at 15 under and when Davies birdied No. 10 playing in the group ahead of Inbee she pulled within a single shot of the lead. But Park had too much for her down the stretch.
If there is such a thing as victory in defeat it’s what Davies accomplished at the Founders Cup. Dame Laura is a simply a force of nature. At, 54 she’s older than Park and Chun combined. Her last LPGA win was in 2001, but she was trying to become the oldest tour winner – by 8 years.
Davies famously hates to practice. Still, she has 20 LPGA wins; four majors championships and 84 wins worldwide. I’ve also seen her play soccer and tennis and she is an extremely skilled athlete. And she is determined to get the two points she needs to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame, a feat she would have easily accomplished if she hadn’t almost single-handedly carried the LET by paying both tours full-time.
“It would have been huge,” Davies said about a victory in Phoenix. “I knew what the record was and that I hadn’t won in who knows how long. It was as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” she said about her feelings on No. 1. “I almost shanked my drive and made bogey but then I chipped in for eagle on No. 2 and that calmed me down. I was four over after six holes on Thursday so I’m quite pleased how I fought back.”
Park has been No. 1 in the world but came into the Founders Cup No. 19 in the Rolex Rankings. But that has more to do with a series of nagging injuries that had her skipping two majors in order to get ready for the 2016 Olympics. She seems to be back in the groove now and ready to make another run at the top spot.
There have been rumors that she might want to take a break at some point to start a family and at the Founders Cup that appeared to be the only thing that could slow her down. You also had the feeling at Founders that she really enjoys dismantling a golf course and overwhelming the field. That sort of leads you to feel that if she ever does go on hiatus it will be after she climbs her way back to No. 1. This week, she made that look like a very real objective.