Inbee sure to wear flowers in your hair: Park chases more Major glory in San Francisco

The Olympic Club hosts the US Women’s Open this week and the seven-time Major Champion loves it.

A few years ago the journalist Lewine Mair wandered around the range at a European Tour event and asked the players for their thoughts on the then women's World No. 1.

"Inbee Park?" one pondered, eyes narrowing as he searched the memory bank. "No, don't think I've played there."

It was both a brilliantly funny misunderstanding and also a stark reminder that a player can win seven Major Championships without gaining much of a profile.

In contrast, Park does feature in a novel by the Booker Prize short-listed Nicola Barker, in which a character rhapsodises about her putting stroke.

How curious: what other golfer has been admired in the pages of literary fiction, yet remains a mystery to her peers?

Welcome to the world of women's golf, Mel Reid might say.

In an interview with The Independent two years ago, Reid recalled that when Park needed a replacement 3-wood she was offered one at cost price by her manufacturer.

"That's a World No. 1," Reid said. "People have no idea this is going on. It's an absolute joke."

Park lifts her first US Women's Open trophy.
Park lifts her first US Women's Open trophy.

The quest for win number eight

This week Park is chasing a third US Women's Open triumph at a venue hosting the event for the first time - the Olympic Club in San Francisco. In one sense she faces a Rory McIlroy-like problem because she hasn't won a Major since the end of 2015.

In another, win number eight feels like it is coming. For one thing, she's never stopped banging on the door, landing 12 top 10s in the 21 Majors since her last success.

For another, she's ramped it up since the return from lockdown, finishing top seven in four of the five Majors last year and this.

It also helps that she's started winning regular tour events again, breaking a two year drought at the start of 2020 and winning this year's Kia Classic by five shots.

A fourth factor is that she really likes this week's course. In fact, her press conference suggests that she's a little giddy about the place, doing her best to recreate memories of San Francisco's Summer of Love.

"I'm really looking forward to playing this week," she said. "I love the golf course, I think it's going to be unbelievable."

A few minutes later: "Obviously, this course, I really like it. Really love the look of it. This is really a true major golf course setup. Really happy to see this course."

A good fit

Beyond the Olympic Club's distinct test and Park's crush on it, she's always enjoyed a demanding US Open examination.

"I think my game really suits the tough golf courses," she said. "I'm pretty calm on the golf course too. Whatever happens on the golf course, I kind of manage myself to stay calm no matter what happens. This golf course definitely needs some patience.

"It's going to play tough. It's going to be windy, and cold, and we're going to have to hit some fairways on this golf course. It's almost an automatic bogey when you go in the rough."

Like Lee Trevino, Park has a swing that if it were a gate would need re-hanging but, also like Trevino, she leaves aesthetics to others and instead keeps hitting the short grass: she ranks sixth for Driving Accuracy this season, was third last year and fourth in 2019.

Deadly

Her real strength, however, is on the greens; the real pity of her relative anonymity in the sport being that one of the finest-ever wafters of a putter is not celebrated for her sensational touch.

Park is deadly on the greens.
Park is deadly on the greens.

NBC on-course commentator Roger Maltbie once gushed: "Every putt she hits looks like it's going in the hole."

Golf Digest putting coach Bill Schmedes III explained: "She is one of the best putters in the world, on any tour, because of her body connection. It starts at address, and it continues through the stroke."

Dave Stockton simply said: "Mentally, she's in a league of her own."

The stats back it up. She's finished top three in the seasonal Putting Average rankings in 12 of the last 14 seasons, six times leading the way.

She's also made 12 cuts in her 14 US Women's Open appearances and, in all but one of them, she ranked top 11 for one of the Putting categories - in eight of them she ranked top 11 for both.

The flaws of traditional stats notwithstanding, those are ridiculous numbers.

A second Summer of Love?

As are her finishing positions. From those 12 weekends she has claimed 10 finishes better than T16th, including six top sixes of which two were wins.

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At best price 11/1 this week (with William Hill paying six places), she sits at the top of the market, but her favouritism is well-earned and entirely deserved.

Perhaps she really can revive the 1967 vibe this week. It would be nice to think the accidental gag could be reappropriated, or at least tweaked.

Maybe, Inbee Park can join Golden Gate Park and Buena Vista Park in San Francisco's long afternoon legend.

READ MORE: Leading contenders in the 2021 US Women's Open

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