At The Head Of The Class

SOUTHAMPTON, NEW YORK | No way would you pick her as the No. 1 player in the world. Standing on the driving range next to Stacy Lewis, Suzann Pettersen and Michelle Wie, Inbee Park looks, to the casual observer, like someone who would struggle to make a cut. She isn’t tall or strong, and she doesn’t look particularly athletic. There is nothing imposing about her. In fact, her placid demeanor invites more yawns than fist pumps. Compared to some of the more powerful, lowing swings on Tour, Park’s move seems downright quirky. She sways on the backswing and the club points to the sky like a lightning rod before she fires her hips in a way that would cause most golfers to duck hook every shot. The swing repeats, although she isn’t long (84th on Tour in driving distance), and she isn’t particularly accurate, ranking 55th in fairways hit and 17th in greens hit in regulation. Anyone who didn’t know better would assume that Park lingers in the middle of the LPGA pack when, in fact, she is the hottest professional golfer in the world, and the only one with a chance to win the grand slam. Her U.S.
Women’s Open win was her sixth of the year and her third straight major. The last player of any gender to win the first three majors of the year was Ben Hogan in 1953. The last woman to do it was Babe Zaharias in 1950. No part of Park’s game looks like either of them. So, how does she do it? How has this mild-mannered 24-year-old become the most dominant figure in women’s golf and placed herself on the cusp of history? Simple: Park could well be the best putter in golf at the moment, man or woman. Just look at the numbers. Other than money and total wins, where she is well ahead of every other woman in the game, Park leads the Tour in three key statistics: scoring average, rounds in the 60s, and putts per green hit in regulation. “The numbers prove it,” said Annika Sörenstam, who is a big admirer of the way Park plays. “It isn’t just that she makes putts, which she does, it’s that she makes them under pressure. Other players might make a lot of good putts, but they aren’t doing it on the weekend with everything on the line. Inbee seems to putt better when the pressure is on.” Just how well is she putting? In a typical USGA pairing, Park played the first two rounds with Lewis and Pettersen, the Nos. 2 and 3 players in the world, respectively. On the holes where all three hit driver and found the fairway, Park was the shortest off the tee on all but two occasions in 36 holes. She hit longer clubs into all the par-3s than did her fellow competitors and she hit fewer fairways than Pettersen and only two more greens in regulation than Lewis. Yet she beat Lewis in those two rounds by a dozen shots and topped Pettersen by 19. “It’s frustrating because she is not exactly knocking the lags down,” Lewis said late Friday afternoon. “She is making putts off the edge of the green, ones that you wouldn’t expect her to make. It’s definitely frustrating for us watching.” Twenty-footers, 30-footers, 40-footers from spots where most players would be fortunate not to three-putt: Park makes them as a matter of routine. The putts that don’t go in look like they have a chance of falling, and there is no putt she doesn’t think she can make. “I don’t think I’ve ever putted this good in my life,” Park said. “I’ve been feeling quite confident over the putts I guess the last couple of years.” And when was the last time she stood over a putt and thought it wasn’t going in? “In May, maybe, in the Bahamas,” she said. “After that, I really haven’t felt that bad.” She keeps her putting mechanics simple: left-hand low, head still, her hands ahead of the ball through impact.


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