Inbee Park Shares Record Book Wins With Babe Zaharias

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South Korean golfer Inbee Park, 24, has done something no athlete has done since Babe Zaharias in 1950: win the first three major women's tournaments of the year. On Sunday, she won the U.S. Women's Open in Southhampton, New York.



The talk of the sports world this morning is women's golf. A rare moment brought on by a 24-year-old from South Korea. Inbee Park won the U.S. Women's Open yesterday on Long Island. It was the third major championship on the women's pro tour this season. And Park has won all three.

In fact, she's the first woman to win the first three majors of the year since the legendary Babe Zaharias in 1950.

NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Inbee Park has made this entire season look pretty easy. Well, talk to us about the U.S. Open. How easy was that victory?

GOLDMAN: Park made it look easy. But it was not an easy golf course out there on the bay in South Hampton - wildly undulating greens, windy conditions. Only three players were under par for the tournament. But Park has been doing this basically since last July. That's when she won her first tournament in four years. After that she closed out 2012 with one more win and five second place finishes. This year, it's crazy what she's done. Six wins. Yesterday was her third in a row - as you mentioned - with three majors.

MONTAGNE: Tell us more about what makes Inbee Park so good?

GOLDMAN: Unbelievable putting and absolute serenity on the golf course. She never gets mad. She never gets overly excited. No fist pumps or Tiger Woods uppercuts when she does something great. She gives a little half wave and a slight smile while the crowd is going wild, basically.

MONTAGNE: And Tom, this isn't the first time we've heard of her, is it?

GOLDMAN: No it's not. She won the 2008 U.S. Open, in fact, at the age of 19 - youngest ever. There were huge expectations then that she was going to be the next big thing, but those expectations got the best of her and she struggled. But she finally emerged from a long drought with that win last July. She had retooled her swing. She got help from a sports psychologist and her swing coach - who is also her fiance. So, now she's a happy and centered 24-year-old laying waste to the women's tour.

MONTAGNE: And yesterday, of course, was not only another win for Park, it was another major win for her native South Korea. Why have women golfers from that country been doing so well?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. You know, not surprisingly the second and third place finishers yesterday behind Park also were South Korean. Five different women from that nation, including Park, have won seven of the past nine major championships.

Why? This surge really can be traced back 15 years, when Seri Pak became first South Korean woman to win a major title. In 1998, in fact, she won two in fact. She inspired a lot of girls to take up game. The culture such that good ones were weeded out and trained to exclusion of almost everything else in their lives. And the work ethic continues when they become pros. You hear stories about the South Korean golfers being the last ones off the putting greens at night.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, what kind of impact might Park have on making the women's game more popular, especially here in the U.S. where we're always looking for a breakout American star?

GOLDMAN: Well, Park is not American, but she came to U.S. as a 12 year old. And she's fluent in English, she's well spoken, she's appealing, with a good sense of humor.

But, really, what she's doing though really transcends nationality - and what she may do. A month from today, the Women's British Open at hallowed St. Andrews starts. Now if Park wins that major, she will become the first golfer ever - woman or man - to win four major professional tournaments in a calendar year. She does that, she's a golfer for the ages.

Plus, this year the women's tour added a fifth major, in France in September. Another chance for park to be in the spotlight, to gain more attention and fans, which then attracts sponsors, which helps the tour grow.

In her words yesterday: It's scary what I could accomplish.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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