Female Golfer Seeks To Roundup Titles

At this week's Women's British open, Inbee Park is trying to be the first golfer, man or woman, to win all four Grand Slam titles in one year. So far, she's had a rough time. She's fallen to the middle of the pack on the leaderboard through two rounds. Audie Cornish talks to sportswriter Stefan Fatsis for an update.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The road to a golf milestone, a Grand Slam, got a lot tougher today. Inbee Park of South Korea who won the first three major tournaments of the year stumbled in the second round of the British Open, at the fabled old course in St. Andrew, Scotland. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now as he does most Fridays to talk more about it. Hey there, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So, Stefan, Inbee Park is trying to do something that no one has ever done before in professional golf, men's or women's. And that's win four majors in the same calendar year. So how's it going?

FATSIS: Not so great for her. She lost a lot of ground on the leader board today. Park was two strokes off of the lead entering the second round of play. She shot one over par in blustery conditions. Other players went way under par, including some who teed off earlier in the day when conditions were more favorable.

Park's now eight strokes back halfway through the tournament. That is far. Twenty-four players stand between her and the leader, Na Yeon Choi, who is also from South Korea. She went five under for the day for the second time in a row.

CORNISH: And Park's attempt at this Grand Slam, I mean, it's getting so much praise and attention inside the golf world, but I feel like I haven't heard that much about it outside. Why not?

FATSIS: You know, if Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson were going for a Grand Slam, the Internet would explode. But when Inbee Park showed up for a media session earlier this week, the room was nearly empty and part of that is women's golf. The sport has recovered sponsors and embraced social media in recent years, but it just doesn't have a big general following. Part of it is Park.

She's described as friendly and well like, but she doesn't have a big personality. She's not some tour babe, which sadly still matters in the media and in marketing some women's sports. And while she went to high school in the United States and speaks good English, she's not American.

CORNISH: And I guess that that last point has been a big one in women's golf in recent years?

FATSIS: Yeah. Five of the top nine players in the world rankings are Korean now. Na Yeon Choi, the British Open leader, who has her initials, by the way, NYC on her belt buckle, which I kind of like, she's ranked fourth in the world. Thirty-six of the top 100 women players are Korean. Just playing in the United States, nearly a third of the players on the LPGA tour are Korean.

Last year, Korean women, none of them named Inbee Park, won three of the four Majors and the fourth Major was won by Shanshan Feng of China. Asian women have won 19 of the last 36 Majors. That's crazy.

CORNISH: So give us some context here. Why?

FATSIS: Well, American women dominated golf really through the 1990s. The rise of Asian players began when Se-Ri Pak of Korea won two Majors in 1998. That led thousands of Korean parents to have their girls take up the sport. Inbee Park talks about her parents watching Pak's first win at 3:00 in the morning, running around their house shouting.

That helped build golf in Korea, hundreds of courses, thousands of driving ranges, thousands of instructors.

CORNISH: I can understand it being popular but, I mean, why do you have all these folks dominating the top ranks?

FATSIS: Well, you know, there are a lot of cultural theories for Korean success in women's golf. It's a competitive culture and a supportive one. Middle class families are willing to devote everything to the sport. Sponsors help out, too, which leads to a sort of Tiger mom or maybe we should call it Tiger Wood's mom approach to the game, practice, practice, practice.

Sometimes to the exclusion of education. Families often relocate to Australia or New Zealand or the United States, sometimes for the winter, sometimes permanently, as with Inbee Park who moved to Las Vegas at age 12. And all of that practice and competition improves focus. It fosters patience. It creates professional caliber players. And the payoff for the players is obvious, but it's also big for the country.

Inbee Park might not be well known here but she is a national icon in South Korea.

CORNISH: Stefan, thanks so much.

FATSIS: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. He's also a panelist on Slate magazine's sports podcast, Hang Up And Listen.

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