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From Pak To Park

On the 10th anniversary of Se Ri Pak's game-changing U.S. Women's Open victory, countrywoman Inbee Park matched her role model at wonderfully quirky Interlachen

YOU KNOW something about all those Parks and Swedes and teenagers playing in the U.S. Women's Open last week? Each of them took a remarkable journey to get into the field at Interlachen, in suburban Minneapolis. One Swede (Annika Sorenstam) bade farewell to the Open in high style. Another (Helen Alfredsson) finished second and on Monday morning was schlepping around her bags by herself at Minneapolis--St. Paul International Airport. Then there was one of the teenage Park girls—Inbee Park, born on July 12, 1988, in South Korea—who had the most remarkable week of them all. All she did was win the thing in dominating fashion. Not only is she a world-beating golfer, she's also a poet. She writes sometimes funny and often moving passages on her Facebook page, except it's not Facebook; it's the Korean equivalent of Facebook. ¬∂ Wake up, countrymen! The game is officially, thoroughly, completely global. Bookmakers in Las Vegas and London, discounting that the Ryder Cup is in Kentucky, have installed the defending champion Europeans as favorites to beat the Tiger-less Americans. The Hall of Fame is in a former North Florida swamp called the World Golf Village, and Se Ri Pak of South Korea, who won the 1998 U.S. Open at age 20, was inducted into it shortly after turning 30. The guy who won at Torrey Pines a couple of weeks ago is walking planet Earth only because his Thai mother met a Green Beret near her home more than 30 years ago. Tiger's female equivalent, a cool Swede who also travels the world on single-name fame, made a stir-the-soul finale to her stately U.S. Open career, holing out on the 72nd hole from 199 yards to a cup she couldn't see, learning of her curtain-call eagle only by the roar of the crowd, which included scads of above-average Minnesota men who called out polite things like, "Annika, thank you!" as Ms. Sorenstam climbed to the home green holding the hand of her longtime caddie, Terry McNamara. (If you had putted for Annika at Interlachen, she would have won.) Lorena Ochoa, the Mexican golfing artista, had an off week and finished 31st.

And dropping into this whole cosmic scene comes Inbee Park. She looked totally in control playing in Sunday's penultimate pairing, dissecting the course with her ruthlessly efficient U.S. Open swing. (It brings to mind the truncated action of Scott Simpson.) She won—with rounds of 72, 69, 71 and 71, nine under par and four shots ahead of her playing partner, Alfredsson—on a rolling and ingenious course, designed 87 years ago by Donald Ross, native son of Dornoch, Scotland. Park displayed a game rooted in aggressive driving and good distance control, much needed given the course's almost comically knobby greens.

Interlachen is your classic American country club but one rich in Nordic overtones, with the names Christiansen and Erickson and Sjobald on the membership board and snowshoes hanging from the rafters of the tennis building. A safe guess is that Park never rented cross-country skis, as a broke Tom Lehman was tempted to do one Minnesota winter a long time ago. O.K., it's easier for many of us to relate to Lehman's all-American scratch-and-claw story, but this is a new day.

Park and her parents, like latter-day gold prospectors, moved from South Korea to central Florida when she was 12, the family wagon hitched to Inbee's golf promise. At the time she had been playing golf for two years, drawn to the game by Pak's Open win. At 14 Park won the U.S. Junior Girls title. At 17, playing as a pro for the first time, she missed the cut in a Duramed Futures tour event on a public course in Lafayette, La. The Park trio simply got in their van, found another Extended Stay America near some other tournament site, loaded up on fish and rice at a nearby supermarket and went at it again. Her win last week earned her $585,000.

Among the names on the U.S. Open trophy are legendary American players including Patty Berg (native Minnesotan), Babe Zaharias and Mickey Wright. One of Sunday's final pairings included two young American golfers—Paula Creamer, 21, of Pleasanton, Calif.; and Stacy Lewis, 23, of Houston—who had the picture of the trophy right in their heads. Creamer, who on Sundays plays with a pink ball, is often described as the best American-born woman golfer without a major. On Sunday she seemed to want her national championship too much and closed with a 78 on a windswept day, tying for sixth.

Ditto for Lewis, on the desire thing. She also closed with a 78, tying for third in her first event as a professional. What a story Lewis has. She spent most of her childhood in a back brace, endured major back surgery before enrolling at Arkansas, went 5--0 in the Curtis Cup at St. Andrews last month in her amateur swan song and made a major impression last week. Adrenaline, she said, was making her ball go too far and difficult to control. "Learning experience there," she said. Her father, Dale, was her caddie. Of course people were rooting for her.

Really, it wasn't fair. Inbee Park, who has moved from greater Seoul to greater Orlando to greater Las Vegas in pursuit of golf and the things it can bring, wasn't really playing for the U.S. Open trophy. "I tried to play my game and not think that it's the U.S. Women's Open," she said. That's a neat trick, if you can pull it off. "I really can't believe I just did this, with all these big names on the trophy."

She had no words of poetry in her English interviews. Her poetry is in Korean and, last week, in the Arabic numerals on her four scorecards.

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"I tried to play my game and not think it's the U.S. Women's Open," Park said. THAT'S A NEAT TRICK, IF YOU CAN PULL IT OFF.


Photograph by Mike Ehrmann



FRESH FORCE Making her first start as a pro, Lewis backed up a brilliant Curtis Cup with a tie for third in the Open.