The toughest test in women’s golf would figure to be a piece of cake for the No. 1 player in the world.
She already had six wins, and the LPGA Tour season was barely at the halfway point. She stamped her dominance by winning the first two majors of the year. The gap between her and the next best player was even larger than what Tiger Woods enjoyed in men’s golf. Her swing was reliable. And she had the experience as a past U.S. Women’s Open champion. If she had a weakness, it wasn’t apparent.
A third straight major almost seemed inevitable.
But it didn’t work out that way in 2005 for Annika Sorenstam. She tried to ignore a month of hype only for jangled nerves to join her on the first tee at Cherry Hills. She was behind from the opening round, and the harder she tried, the farther behind she fell.
“It was a lot of pressure,” Sorenstam recalled last week about her bid for the Grand Slam. “I wanted to not necessarily ignore it, but I was trying to not let it get to me. I wanted to just focus. It’s another major. It’s the U.S. Open, and at the time, I had won two before. And I thought, ‘I can do this.“’
She can appreciate better than most what Inbee Park faces this week.
The 24-year-old South Korean didn’t win the first two majors as convincingly as Sorenstam did in 2005, but she won them. Park is coming off back-to-back wins, including the LPGA Championship in a playoff, to widen her lead at No. 1 in the world. She won the Women’s Open just five years ago at Interlachen.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how Inbee handles this,” Sorenstam said. “She has the major experience and she’s the No. 1 player in the world, so she’s not necessarily brand new in this role. ... We’ll see how she handles Sebonack and the conditions that await.”
Sorenstam didn’t make it clear if she was talking about external conditions — such as wind coming off Atlantic waters on Long Island — or whatever emotions are roiling inside Park.
The U.S. Women’s Open starts Thursday at Sebonack Golf Club, and Park is the latest to challenge history.
Sorenstam was only the most recent player who tried — and failed — to win three straight majors to start out the season.
Woods had a chance in 2002 until he was blown away by the wind, cold and rain of Muirfield on Saturday of the British Open. Pat Bradley was going for three straight in 1986, but she shot 76 in the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open and never caught up. Jack Nicklaus was on the verge of winning three straight majors in 1972 until Lee Trevino beat him at Muirfield. Arnold Palmer, who created the modern version of the Grand Slam in 1960, lost out by a shot to Kel Nagle that year at St. Andrews.
The last player to start the season by winning three straight majors was Babe Zaharias in 1950, back when the LPGA Tour only had three majors. Ben Hogan won all three he could play in 1953, when the PGA Championship was held at the same time as British Open qualifying.
It’s different now.
Sorenstam said of Park, “I’ve been in her shoes,” but only as it relates to her bid to win three straight majors. Sorenstam was going after the Grand Slam in 2005. The LPGA Tour now counts the Evian Masters, which gives it five majors. Trouble is, a grand slam only scores four runs. Or as Jeff Sluman so famously said in 2003, “When you go to Denny’s and order the Grand Slam breakfast, they don’t give you five things, do they? They give you four.”
What do you call winning five majors in one year? That’s a question Park would love to have someone answer.
The next stop is Sebonack, whether nothing figures to be easy — not the course, not the competition, not the pressure.
“I think there is no way that you won’t feel the pressure,” Park said Tuesday. “Because you will always feel the pressure. But it’s just the more you experience it, you just feel it a little less and less over the time. Now when I’m in the position where I am, and when I’m in the winning position — and I’ve been there a lot — it’s just knowing what I have to do. I think that’s been a big help for me.”
A bigger help is how she’s playing.
“This is the best I’m playing in my career so far,” Park said. “I’m trying to keep this going.”
THIS WEEK IN GOLF
USGA - US WOMEN’S OPEN
COURSE: Sebonack Golf Club (6,821 yards, 6,237 metres, par 72).
PURSE: TBA ($3.25 million in 2012). Winner’s share: TBA ($585,000 in 2012).
TELEVISION: ESPN2 (Thursday-Friday, 3-7 p.m.) and NBC (Saturday-Sunday, 3-6 p.m.).
CANADIAN CONTINGENT: Kirby Dreher, Stephanie Sherlock, Nicole Zhang (a), Brooke Henderson (a), Isabelle Beisiegel, Maude-Aimee Leblanc, Lorie Kane, Jessica Shepley
NOTES: The top-ranked Inbee Park swept the first two major championships of the season, winning the Kraft Nabisco in April and the LPGA Championship three weeks ago. She is looking to join Babe Zaharias as the only LPGA player to win the first three majors to start the season. Zaharias won all three majors in 1950. ...Asian players have won nine straight majors since Stacy Lewis’ victory in the 2011 Kraft Nabisco. ...Park, who won the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at the age of 19, will also be trying for her third straight victory as well. Only one player in LPGA history has captured the U.S. Women’s Open after having won the previous two events on the schedule - Mickey Wright in 1964. ...The last player to win three consecutive tournaments on the LPGA Tour was Lorena Ochoa, who won four-in-a-row in 2008. LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame member Nancy Lopez holds the LPGA record with five consecutive victories in tournaments in 1978. Annika Sorenstam also accomplished the feat across two season in 2004-05. ...Park has an opportunity to become the youngest LPGA player to complete the Career Grand Slam with a victory at the RICOH Women’s British Open or the Evian Championship later this summer. ...Lydia Ko is in the field. The 16-year-old New Zealand amateur won the CN Canadian Women's Open last August to become the youngest LPGA Tour winner. The South Korea-born Ko has two other pro victories, the New South Wales Open last year and New Zealand Women’s Open this year, and won the U.S. Women’s Amateur last season. ...South Korea’s Na Yeon Choi won at Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin last year. ...Paula Creamer has made a name for herself at the U.S. Women’s Open. Not only did she capture her first major title at the event in 2010, she has finished inside the top 20 in every U.S. Women’s Open since 2004. That includes four top-10 finishes in the past five years. She played a practice round with course designer Tom Doak ahead of this year's championship.
PGA - AT&T NATIONAL
COURSE: Congressional Country Club, Blue Course (7,569 yards, 6,921 metres, par 71).
PURSE: $6.5 million. Winner’s share: $1.17 million.
TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 3-6 p.m., 8:30-11:30 p.m.; Saturday, 1-2:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m.-1 a.m.; Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m., 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m.) and CBS (Saturday-Sunday, 3-6 p.m.).
CANADIAN CONTENT: Stephen Ames, Graham DeLaet, Brad Fritsch, David Hearn
NOTES: Tournament host Tiger Woods, who won in 2012 and 2009, is skipping the tournament because of soreness in his left elbow. He plans to return at the British Open. ...U.S. Open champion Justin Rose withdrew on Monday, citing fatigue. He won the 2010 tournament at Aronimink in Pennsylvania. ... Masters champion Adam Scott tops the field along with Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day, Nick Watney, Jim Furyk, Bill Haas and Rickie Fowler. Watney won in 2011 at Aronimink. ... Bo Van Pelt’s runner-up showing last year is one of 24 top-10 finishes since the start of the 2010 season. That’s the most of anyone during that time frame without winning. ...Congressional was the site where Ken Venturi staggered through stifling heat to win the 1964 U.S. Open, the first of three Opens held there along with the 1976 PGA Championship.
EUROPEAN TOUR - IRISH OPEN
COURSE: Carton House Golf Club (7,271 yards, 6,649 metres, par 72).
PURSE: $2.63 million. Winner’s share: $437,895.
TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.-noon; Sunday, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.).
NOTES: Welshman Jamie Donaldson won his first European Tour title, finishing with a 6-under 66 for a four-stroke victory at Royal Portrush last year. ...Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell top the Irish contingent along with Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, the 2007 winner at Adare Manor, and Shane Lowry, the 2009 champion as an amateur at County Louth.
CHAMPIONS TOUR - SENIOR PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP
COURSE: Fox Chapel Golf Club (6,996 yards, par 70).
PURSE: $2.7 million. Winner’s share: $405,000.
TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday, 12:30-2:30 p.m.; Friday, 12:30-2:30 a.m., 12:30-2:30 p.m.; Saturday, 12:30-2:30 a.m., 2:30-6 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30-4:30 a.m., 2:30-6 p.m.; Monday, 2-5 a.m.).
CANADIAN CONTINGENT: Jim Rutledge, Rod Spittle
NOTES: Colin Montgomerie is making his Champions Tour debut. The eight-time European Tour money champion, who was enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame earlier this year, turned 50 on Sunday. His last professional victory came at the 2007 European Open at the K Club in Ireland. ... The tournament is the third of the tour’s five major championships. Kohki Idoki won the Senior PGA in May at Bellerive in St. Louis, and David Frost took the Regions Tradition three weeks ago at Shoal Creek in Alabama. ...Fred Couples won the 2011 tournament at Westchester Country Club in New York. ... Rocco Mediate, from nearby Greensburg, won the Allianz Championship in February in his first senior start.
WEB.COM TOUR - UNITED LEASING CHAMPIONSHIP
COURSE: Victoria National Golf Club, Newburgh, Indiana
PURSE: $600,000. Winner's share: $99,000
TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday, 6:00-8:00 p.m.; Friday, 6:00-8:00 p.m.; Saturday, 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7:00-9:00 p.m.)
CANADIAN CONTINGENT: Adam Hadwin, Matt Hill, Roger Sloan, Richard Scott
NOTES: The thermometer topped 100 degrees on all four days of last year’s inaugural edition, including a final day in which four extra holes were needed before Peter Tomasulo outlasted Sweden’s David Lingmerth. Forecasts call for Thursday’s high in the low 90s, with the rest of the week about 10 degrees cooler. ...Chesson Hadley, the Tour’s newest winner, may also have the hottest hand with four top-6 finishes in his past five starts. Biggest question for Hadley is how much he has left in the tank after a hometown win last week.
SYMETRA TOUR - ISLAND RESORT CHAMPIONSHIP
COURSE: Sweetgrass Golf Club, Harris, Michigan
PURSE: $115,000. Winner's share: $17,000
CANADIAN CONTINGENT: Angela Buzminski, Sue Kim, Danielle Mills, Samantha Richdale, Ashley Sholer, Nicole Vandermade, Jessica Wallace, Natalie Gleadall (alternate), Melissa Mabanta (alternate)
NOTES: Sue Kim, currently No. 1 in the Volvik Race for the Card standings, recorded her first career Symetra Tour victory at the Decatur-Forsyth Classic earlier this month and grabbed the No. 1 spot after her win. She has recorded six top-10 finishes in her three-year Symetra Tour campaign. Eight of the Tour’s top-10 players on the money list are slated to be in the field. ...Also scheduled to compete are a trio of current cast members on Golf Channel’s reality series, Big Break Mexico - Taylor Collins, Stefanie Kenoyer and Emily Talley.
ALL-AMERICAN GATEWAY TOUR - EVENT #9
COURSE: Grayhawk Golf Club, Raptor Course, Scottsdale, AZ
CANADIAN CONTINGENT: Scott McNeil, Jordan Krantz