x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Park In-bee eyes her moment of golfing history at British Open

A first Grand Slam is on the horizon for the South Korean at the British Open at St Andrews, writes Steve Elling.

Park In-bee practises ahead of the start of the British Open at St Andrews.
Park In-bee practises ahead of the start of the British Open at St Andrews.

At a place where history seeps out of the salty linksland ground and ghosts of the game's greats supposedly linger on the edges of the haar, a largely anonymous player from South Korea will attempt the unimaginable this week at St Andrews.

A few weeks back, a writer from the States walked around the Home of Golf with a photo of Park In-bee in hand, and queried the golf-crazy Scots in the town as to her identity. Only one guy, working in a golf shop, named her correctly. This week, that should rightly change.

Park, whose consistent game and understated personality have coalesced like one of the many double-greens at the Old Course, is seeking to become the first professional to win the grand slam in the same calendar year - at a venue where the game was conjured by shepherds.

"Not many golfers get that kind of opportunity, winning three majors and going for a calendar Grand Slam in a British Open," said Park, 25.

More like, "not any". No male or female has won all four legs of the modern slam in the same season, and few would have envisioned this scenario for the quiet Korean, either.

Park first turned up on the golfing radar a dozen years ago at age 12, two weeks removed from Seoul, at a US Golf Association qualifier in Orlando, Florida. Having watched countrywoman Pak Se Ri win two majors in 1998, Park took up the game and within months, her father moved most of the family to Florida to maximise her chances of progressing in the game.

Daddy's gambit paid off? She won a US Open at age 19 in 2008, went into four years of winless doldrums, but has won eight times in the past 13 months to rocket to world No 1.

A short hitter, she dinks the ball around the course, avoids trouble, keeps a cool head and wears down her foes by letting them make the first mistake.

Her attempt to make history has not generated the publicity it deserves but, back home, she's a massive celebrity. Women's golf is bigger than the men's game in South Korea, thanks to the successes of the country's female contingent abroad.

In South Korea for a visit this summer, she pulled up to a toll booth and was quickly saluted by the female attendant. "It's cool to be recognised and to have a lot of fans, and I think that really helps me," Park said.

To complete the grand slam, she will have to pay the freight at the Old Course, which has produced a brilliant list of winners over parts of three centuries. As at that Korean toll booth, no one gets a free pass at a major.

"She charged me, yeah," Park said with a laugh.

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