Park eyes US Women's Open, 20 years on from Pak

2018-05-30 10:44
golf, park in-bee
Park In-Bee (Getty Images)

Miami - World number one Park In-bee will take a low-key approach to the women's US Open on Thursday as she aims to cement the legacy of compatriot Pak Se-ri with her eighth major title. 

Twenty years ago, Pak blazed a trail for Korean golfers when she stormed to victory in the 1998 US Open, a spectacular triumph that encouraged many of her compatriots to take up the sport. 

"Back in '98, I was really just a kid," Park said on Tuesday. "My dad was really a big fan of golf. He was watching golf and watching Se-ri play. I remember my dad getting really excited very early in the morning. 

"After that there was a big golf boom in Korea and a lot of the girls my age were starting to play golf. I was one of them." 

In 1998, Pak was the sole South Korean golfer plying her trade on the LPGA Tour. There are now more than 50 Korean players on the LPGA, and last year Korean women picked up three of the five majors on offer. 

Unsurprisingly, world number one Park will start as the player to beat at Shoal Creek Gold and Country Club in Alabama on Thursday. 

The 29-year-old Olympic champion, a US Open winner in 2008 and 2013, has prepared for this week's challenge by playing in Korea. She warmed up for the Open with victory in the Doosan Match Play Championship on May 20. 

"Obviously, winning in front of a lot of fans in Korea was a big thing," she said. "It was a match play, so I played seven rounds in five days. So that was very tough. I was proud of myself that I have done it in the match play." 

Park believes she has benefited from a rest after that win, but remains mindful of a crowded field of contenders. 

The last 12 majors have been won by 12 different players, highlighting the depth of the women's game and the LPGA Tour. 

"Coming into the major, there is a lot of notable players that haven't won this year and they are looking to win," Park said. 

"(On the LPGA Tour) You don't see the same players every week up on the leaderboard. You see some kind of different levels of players, a variety of players on the leaderboard." 

Park has travelled to the United States accompanied only by her husband. She said she had welcomed the opportunity to "do nothing" on a rare day off on Monday. 

"I kind of needed some time to rest and do nothing," she said. "I don't have to worry about anything and do anything." 

One of the biggest challenges to Park's hopes could come from Lexi Thompson. The world number three's long game could give her a crucial edge this week on a course which has been drenched with rain. 

"I would say definitely it's an advantage to be longer," Thompson acknowledged. "The course is playing very long."

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