Inbee Park is on the brink of history as the world No. 1 prepares to take on the Old Course at St. Andrews and the best in women’s golf in her quest to become the first player ever to win four professional major titles in the same season.
Tiger Woods earned his “Tiger Slam,” when he grabbed all four men’s majors in a row, but he did so across the 2000-2001 seasons. Mickey Wright also won a quartet between 1961 and 1962, and Bobby Jones won four major titles that included two amateur championships, which, in his time, were counted as majors.
But no one -- not Woods, Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, or Annika Sorenstam -- has ever achieved the Grand Slam in the same calendar year.
Park, the first player in the modern era to win the first three majors in a season, is cognizant of what a victory this week in Scotland would mean.
“Not many golfers get that kind of opportunity, winning three majors and going for a calendar grand slam in a British Open,” the 25-year-old from South Korea said during a teleconference earlier this month. And [at] such a great golf course and such an historical golf course.
“I think I’m just very lucky to have that kind of opportunity,” said Park, who has six Ws in 2013, including the Kraft Nabisco Championship, LPGA Championship, and U.S. Women’s Open. “I think I should be very appreciative where I'm positioned.”
After taking the first three majors, Park joined Babe Zaharias as the only players to accomplish the feat. While Zaharias won all the majors on the calendar in 1950, a victory this week would give Park the four titles that, until this year, would have counted unquestionably as a Grand Slam.
With the LPGA adding a fifth major, the Evian Masters, to its 2013 schedule, some observers wonder how to characterize the achievement if Park comes away with the win this week. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is not among them.
"I'll call her a 'Grand Slam' winner if she wins four," Whan said in a recent interview on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" program. "I think we've created the 'Super Slam' for five."
Call it what you will, it matters not to the golfer in question, who, as a line-drive hitter and with some of the best short skills and putting strokes in all of golf, has the game to hoist the trophy.
“I love playing links golf courses,” she said. “My ball flight is low so I love to play in the wind.”
Park, has, however, conceded that she has entered uncharted territory when it comes to the tension she’ll face when she tees it up on Thursday.
“It just feels very awkward to me at the moment. I'm trying to get used to the attention, trying to get used to the pressure,” said Park, who won the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open when she was 19. “I think I've had very good practice at U.S. Women's Open playing under the pressure. I felt a little bit of pressure there, but I handled it very good, so that gave me a lot of confidence coming into the British Open with the pressure.
“I mean, you're always going to feel the pressure. How could you not feel the pressure in the type of situation I'm in?” she posited. “But I've played golf until this point. I've won six tournaments, three majors -- even if I don't win anymore, I'm very happy for this season. How could you ask [for more than that]? Wanting more majors, wanting more wins, almost feels like I think I'm being too greedy.”
Park noted that she had yet to get used to being in the limelight.
“I feel like the whole world is watching me,” she said. “I never got that kind of attention before.”
With Woods and Phil Mickelson headlining this week’s Bridgestone Invitational, Park’s efforts will likely receive far less scrutiny than they would if one of those two guys -- or anyone else on the men’s side -- were chalking up major wins at the rate she has. Indeed, GolfChannel.com’s Randall Mell noted that several legendary LPGA golfers believe the spotlight should be shining far brighter on Park than it is.
“This is going to be huge if she wins, but it won’t mean as much if she doesn’t get the recognition and attention this deserves,” Sorenstam, whose turn with the guys at Colonial a decade ago captured the imagination of even casual golf fans, told Mell. “It’s a big deal, but people aren’t really paying attention. You look at what she has done already, I don’t think it’s getting enough attention. If this were a player on the PGA Tour, it’s all anyone would be hearing about.”
Fellow Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez concurred.
“There’s always been some disappointment, for my whole lifetime, that women’s sports have taken such a backseat, that for some reason it’s not as great an accomplishment if a woman does it," Lopez said to Mell. "It gets a little frustrating."
“I feel like women are never given the credit they deserve,” Lopez added. “The women in golf need to be given more credit. I don’t think they’ve gotten it. I just hope the credit is given to Inbee. She’s a great player and a super person, and she has done a great job handling this.”