Just a stroll in the park for Inbee at the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open

As a sports fan, I savor the moments when I get to see athletic greatness. It doesn’t happen that often, so when you watch an amazing feat, one tends to shake the head and utter a few “wows” along the way.

I watched Homer Bailey throw a no-hitter for the Cincinnati Reds this week. It was the first no-no in the major leagues this season. Until Bailey’s gem, the last no hitter was tossed in September last year. The pitcher of record for that one is none other than Homer Bailey. Wow! Not exactly Johnny Vander Meer, but awfully impressive nonetheless.

My all-time biggest wow goes to Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes in 1973. As he came thundering down the stretch on his way to a 31-length victory and the Triple Crown, I was simply amazed. It still is the greatest athletic achievement I have ever witnessed. Topping it will be very difficult.

The potential for making Big Red’s record romp drop from the top spot is there, however. What Inbee Park has done on the golf course lately is, quite simply, incredible. Last weekend she won the 68th U.S. Open Championship by four strokes, shooting an 8-under 280. The win by itself wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows. It was however, the latest of a string of performances on the golf course that makes one say WOW.

By winning the U.S. Open, Park has now won the first three majors of the 2013 LPGA season. Only three other women have won three majors in a single season. Babe Zaharias won all three on the schedule in 1950 – shortly before this writer was born. In 1961 Mickey Wright won three of the four majors as did Pat Bradley in 1986.

Two golfers have won four consecutive majors though it was done over a two-year period. The aforementioned Wright did so in 1961-62. On the men’s tour, some guy named Tiger accomplished the feat in 2000-01.

Inbee Park has the chance to go into uncharted territory next month when she heads across the pond to play in the Ricoh Women’s British Open. The tournament will be contested on the Old Course at St. Andrews. How cool would it be for Park to make history at the birthplace of golf? I might just have to increase my vocabulary to a wowee!

Park, who has been the No. 1-ranked golfer on the women’s tour since April 15, became known to golf fans at the age of 19. She won the 2008 U.S. Open in 2008 as a relative unknown. People may have assumed that it was a fluke because she did not win again in her next 72 tournaments. Let’s see what she has done lately though.

The victory at Sebonack Golf Club was her third straight win and sixth of the season. Those wins include the first two majors of the year – the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April and Wegman’s LPGA Championship in early June. When you consider that she has eight wins in her last 28 starts, the wow factor seems appropriate. If you want to add six runner-up finishes in those starts to the equation, well you are talking Secretariat-like greatness.

Folks, we are talking about winning or being the runner-up in half of the last 28 tournaments she has played. It’s NOT that easy, Inbee! To have this kind of streak means that you cannot have even one bad round. You also have to hope that one or two of the many other stars of the LPGA do not have that dream week.

Just to give you an example of how tough the game of golf can be, try these numbers on. Last week a golfer in my traveling league shot a 74 with three birdies at Sycamore Hills. This week we went to Valley View and he didn’t have a par until the seventh hole. He ended up shooting 89 and had to wonder what happened. He didn’t get a lot of sympathy from his fellow golfers considering that he received a healthy pay envelope from the previous weeks’ efforts before teeing it up at Valley View.

Such is the game of golf – at least it is for most of us. We have difficulty sustaining any good play for a full round let alone several months.

One of the most obvious talents that Inbee Park demonstrates – other than finding fairways and greens, then putting like a wizard – is the control of her emotions on the course. She never seems to get rattled when things don’t go well and you won’t see a fist pump when she makes a great shot. She very calmly remains stoic on the course. Very much like me – only different! Are you kidding? I hit one shot off line and I’m whining and carrying on like a spoiled child.

Inbee Park is not like that. She is cool, calm – and right now really, really good. Does she have a chance to make history at St. Andrews? I suppose the odds are against it, but I didn’t think any horse would ever win a Triple Crown race by 31 lengths either.

The LPGA tour has added a fifth major this year. After the British Open in August the ladies will tee it up at the Evian Masters in France in September. If Park can win at St. Andrews, she will go to France with a chance to really make history. By the way the Evian Masters was held last year though it did not have the major label. The winner of the event was someone named Inbee Park!

Here’s wishing Inbee Park good luck in her quest to make golf history. I’ll be watching to savor the moment and working on new terms to replace wow!

Al Stephenson is The Advertiser-Tribune’s golf columnist.

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