|Korea’s Park In-bee tees off during a practice round ahead of the Evian Championship on Wednesday. (Yonhap News)|
The South Korean is looking to become the first professional golfer to win four majors in a year, something not even Arnold Palmer, Annika Sorenstam or Jack Nicklaus could manage.
“Four out of five majors is an amazing thing to achieve,” Park said on Wednesday, a day before the event. “When I go outside the house and go anywhere in Korea, a lot of people come up to me. It’s like I’m a celebrity.”
After winning the U.S. Women’s Open in June for her third consecutive major of 2013, her bid for a fourth straight ended at the British Open in August, when she was out of touch and four-putted for double bogey on the first hole of the final round.
But she is still the overwhelming favorite at Evian.
“I’m sure the experience I had at the British Open will help me through this week. This is going to be a much better week,” she said. “I feel like pressure is my friend now. I’m trying to learn from everything.”
She has six tournament wins this year and dominant leads in the U.S. LPGA Tour money list and player of the year races.
Park’s form is even more remarkable because heading into last year’s Evian Masters ― as it was formerly known before becoming a major ― she had not won a tournament since the U.S. Open in 2008.
“I really thought I wasn’t going to be able to win again,” she said. “Sometimes I just wanted to give up and do something that doesn’t give me as much stress.”
Since the modern version of the Grand Slam began in 1960, Park is the only player to win the first three majors of a season. The only other pro to do that was Babe Zaharias in 1950, when the U.S. LPGA Tour had only three majors.
Ben Hogan won three in 1953, though the British Open at Carnoustie was held one week after the U.S. PGA Championship. Hogan couldn’t play the PGA Championship, physically because of his battered legs and logistically because Open qualifying was the same week as the PGA.
Tiger Woods won the final three majors of 2000 after tying for fifth in the Masters.
Woods, Palmer, Nicklaus and Sorenstam got halfway to the Grand Slam but couldn’t get the third leg. Woods and Mickey Wright are the only players to win four straight professional majors but did so over two seasons.
The course, built into the mountains in Evian-les-Bains overlooking the shores of Lake Geneva, has always been regarded as one of the favorites on the women’s tour. Over the past year, architects have undertaken a multimillion redesign focusing mainly on the four-hole finishing stretch.
Formerly a reachable par-5, the 18th is now a par-4 and the new par-3 16th hole will be played over water to a pitched green. The fifth hole has also been shifted from a par-4 to a tougher par-3.
“The layout is great. I think it’s really like a true major course now,” Park said. “Now the greens are really huge and (there is) a lot of undulation. So you really need to pick your spot where you can land it.”
No. 2 Stacy Lewis will also be among the favorites in a strong field of 120 after winning her second career major at the British Open.
“It’s still kind of sinking in that I won there,” the American said. “I’m just trying to hang in with her (Park). I watch her scores, I watch what she’s doing.”
No. 3 Suzann Pettersen of Norway is in form after winning the Safeway Classic for the second time in three years this month.
Another one to watch will be Lydia Ko ― the 16-year-old amateur from New Zealand who successfully defended her Canadian Women’s Open title last month.