Add to the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open trophy the name of Inbee Park, South Korea’s quiet, humble champion of the game.
She sits there comfortably on the Patricia Bridges Bowl with the likes of Annika Sorenstam, Lydia Ko, Dame Laura Davies, Karrie Webb and Jan Stephenson, all legends of the game. It is a name that indisputably belongs among that group, and a name that once etched on the trophy only embellishes the story of the tournament.
Park, 31, won by three shots at Royal Adelaide – the same margin that she began the day with.
“It’s a great honour to put my name among these legends in golf and hopefully later, 10, 20 years later, everybody looks at those names and maybe one of my name, and then everybody thinks that it is their honour to be on there,” she said afterward.
Park shot 74, one-over par, in tricky, windy conditions, and was not always at her best. But she did just enough. Really, she was never seriously threatened nor in major trouble at 14-under par.
Second-placed Amy Olson of the United States shot a fine 70 and posted 11-under par overall, and as Park walked down the par-five 17th, that was just a two-shot lead. But the 17th is a gimme birdie for most of these professionals, and Park was not about to miss out on it.
She knocked her second shot on the green, two putted for birdie, and that was effectively that. It allowed her a triumphal march up 18, where the big crowd had gathered to see the Queen crowned again. She had a birdie chance which she missed, then tapped in from inside a metre and lifted her arms in the air.
She had led by as many as five shots early in her round as the immediate challengers such as teenager Ayean Cho (77 today) fell away, but Park bogeyed the ninth after hitting her third shot over the green, the 14th from in front of the green and the 16th from the left of the green. All that did was give the likes of Olson and China’s Yu Liu, who had reached 12 under and three from the lead through 15 holes, a scent of a surprise.
Then Liu bogeyed the last three holes consecutively to fall back into a tie for fourth. Another potential challenger, Frenchwoman Perrine Delacour, was in the mix until she triple bogeyed the par-four 14th from left of the green. Delacour ended up 10-under with a few regrets over those few moments. Another one who had a hint of a chance, Marina Alex, bogeyed the 12th and 13th and slid to tied-fourth.
Perth’s Hannah Green (74 today) was the leading Australian in a tie for 13th.
As for Park, she said later that when she birdied the 17th, she was safe. As ever, it was her putter that saved her, with a string of par-saves – notably on the sixth, eighth and twelfth. She had no more than 30 putts on any day, and 26 in the first and third rounds. “That really tells you, golf is all about putting,” she said afterward.
The Korean paid a nice tribute to her long-time Australian caddie Brad Beecher, who has carried her bag for 14 years. “It’s been a long time with him and he’s Australian, he loves Australia and every time we play in the US he flies back home, even if there’s five days off. So, it’s not a short way to go, but he just loves Australia that much and being able to win in front of him in Australia is just great.’’
Park is hellbent on making the Korean Olympic team but otherwise, talks like she might retire soon, complaining about being away from home too much. But she put it in perspective today. “Yeah, it is hard, travelling like this, it’s really hard but that’s what I need to do what I love to do. So, I’m willing to take that risk definitely and yeah, after I retire I’m going to miss this life probably.’’
On the 18th green after the final putt dropped a bunch of her friends and playing colleagues drowned her with champagne. It was her first win in two years, and her 20th on the LPGA Tour. In her darker moments, she had wondered when it would come. So this was special. “I liked that walk,” she said.