Golfer Inbee Park Tries For Fourth Major Win In A Year

Inbee Park could become the first golfer, man or woman, to win four consecutive majors in a calendar year if she snags the Women's British Open title this weekend.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, start paying attention to golf if you want to witness some potential history. Over the next four days, golf fans will certainly be glued to the women's British Open. But even if you don't usually follow golf, there is a name that you should know. If South Korean golfer extraordinaire Inbee Park raises the winner's trophy, she will become the first person, man or woman, to win four major professional titles in a single calendar year.

To talk about this, NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is on the line. Hey, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So you talked to us about Inbee Park a month or so ago after she won the U.S. Open, the third women's major that she took. Remind us what she's done this year and what it would mean if she wins the British Open.

GOLDMAN: Well, six wins this season, three of them majors. She has really separated herself from the rest of the women's tour. Although since the U.S. Open win, she's been a bit more mortal. In two tournaments she had a tie for 14th and a tie for 33rd. But she's still the favorite to win at hallowed St. Andrews.

As you mentioned, no man - not Tiger, Jack Nicklaus, Arnie Palmer, Ben Hogan, et cetera - has done this, four professional majors in the same year. Legendary Bobby Jones won four majors in 1930. It was called the Grand Slam then, but two of those were amateur titles. So this would put Park alone in the history books.

GREENE: Now, I don't follow golf that closely, but I hear the words St. Andrews and I sort of know that that's not the easiest course.

GOLDMAN: It's not. You know, we talked about this recently after Phil Mickelson won the British Open. These links courses can be devilishly difficult with tricky weather conditions, because of their location next to the sea. On top of that, you know, the mental aspect of this, golf is such a game of precision, if you're a fraction of an inch off striking the ball, bad things can happen. And tension brought on by, oh, say, thinking about how you have a chance to do what no human has done before, that can cause those fractions of inches mistakes.

So far Park has displayed an amazing calm on the golf course. She says it's her refuge really from all the hype and expectation. But she hasn't faced what she's facing now, four rounds to golfing immortality.

GREENE: And Tom, this is not the last major. So if she doesn't win at the British Open, there's another chance for her to take a fourth title this year.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, they've turned the long-running Evian Masters Tournament in France into the women's fifth major starting this year. It'll be next month, September. It was a business decision. Majors generate the most attention in the LPGA, always is needing to get more attention and sponsors. But purists say no way. There are four real majors and that's it. And if Park doesn't win the British and then wins this fifth one instead, a lot of golf fans say it won't be as significant

GREENE: What's the definition of the major anymore, they'll say.

GOLDMAN: Right.

GREENE: So Park is the favorite. But you know, things can change - favorites can tumble so quickly off the leaderboard. I mean who else has a shot to beat her?

GOLDMAN: American Stacy Lewis ranks second in the world. She's been playing really well. Two tournaments in July, she finished in a tie for sixth, a tie for seventh. And there's a lot of local support at St. Andrews for Scotland's Catriona Matthew. She won the British Open in 2009. She was the first Scot to do that and she's 43. Lucky 43, Phil Mickelson's age when he won the men's tourney a couple weeks ago.

GREENE: And Tom, women's golf lags behind men's golf in terms of popularity. I wonder if a big win by Inbee Park here could go a long way in helping women's golf.

GOLDMAN: I wouldn't say a long way. It will help raise the profile. But you know, really, very few think it will create, you know, a Tiger Woods-like firestorm or permanently move women's golf out of the shadows; especially in this country where it's pretty far off sports fans' radar screens. It will be a spectacular achievement. One hopes Park gets her due.

When it comes to marketing, the LPGA has always shown it's more interested in selling sex appeal than great golf. Park is not a glam girl but she's an awfully good golfer.

GREENE: We'll be watching her out on the course. Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

GREENE: He's NPR sports correspondent.

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