requested a special exemption to be allowed to join the LPGA before
her 17th birthday, but was turned down. Thus, she remained an amateur
at the start of the 2006 season; she turned pro after she graduated
from high school in May. Meanwhile, Song Hee Kim had petitioned the
Futures Tour to be allowed to join, and the tour responded by lowering
the minimum age limit to 17 from 18. Thus, In-Bee was able to become
a full member of that tour right from the start of her pro career.
In-Bee played well on the Futures Tour. Although
she did not win an event, she notched multiple top finishes and
wound up in third place on the Futures Tour money list. Thus, she
earned her exemption for the 2007 LPGA season.
In 2007, In-Bee started to spell her name Inbee,
perhaps to make it easier to remember for fans. Her rookie year
on tour was a rough struggle at first. Until June, she missed more
cuts than she made, and her best finish was a tie for 45th. But
all that changed at the US Women's Open. Perhaps remembering how
well she had played USGA events as a junior, she did wonderfully
there, eventually finishing tied for 4th, by far her best finish
of the year. She played well at the British Open as well, just missing
a top ten.
Her best result of her career came a few weeks later
in Portland. She started the week all right, but on the final day
caught fire, shooting a blistering 8 under par 64 that catapulted
her all the way into the top five. By the end of the day, her rally
was good enough for a tie for second. She finished the year in the
top forty on the money list, securing a two year exempt card on
tour and winding up fourth in the Rookie of the Year standings.
All in all, it had been a wonderful year for her on tour.
If 2007 was a strong season for Inbee, 2008 was
a historic one. She quickly notched three straight top tens, including
one at the year's first Major, and continued her strong play thereafter.
But it was at the US Women's Open that she became a star. The previous
year, she had finished tied for 4th, and in 2008, she found herself
contending for the title on Sunday. While all around her collapsed,
she played brilliantly, eventually capturing the title by four shots.
In winning this event, the biggest in all women's golf, she became
the third Korean to collect that crown, and the youngest ever champion,
beating the record previously held by her idol, Se Ri Pak. She revealed
that she had taken up the game only two days after watching Se Ri
win this very title in 1998; things had indeed come full circle
for the Korean golf explosion.
Inbee struggled a bit after this win, but she still
collected more than a million dollars in earnings in 2008. She also
earned her first major sponsorship, with SK Telecom, as a direct
result of her win. She returned home to Korea as a heroine just
a few days after her amazing accomplishment.
Inbee's weird post-Open malaise continued in 2009.
She finally started to show signs of life mid-year with a tie for
14th at the LPGA Championship and two other top 30s at the next
two Majors. But it wasn't until the end of the year that she finally
achieved her first top tens, two in a row to finish the year.
Inbee actually had her best 2009 result on the KLPGA.
At the Nefs Masterpiece, she got into a playoff with Bo Mi Lee,
but Lee prevailed on the second hole.
At the end of the year, Inbee entered Japanese LPGA
Qualifying School. She succeeded in earning a card on the JLPGA,
and played both tours in 2010. Indeed, Park's start on the JLPGA
tour was nothing short of astonishing. She finished tied for 2nd
with Jiyai Shin at her very first JLPGA event of the year, although
she lost to another Korean rookie, Sun Ju Ahn, by five shots. In
her second event, she actually had the top score at the end of the
week, but then was assessed a two stroke penalty for not replacing
her ball after it moved on a green. This downgraded her to another
second. Shifting to America, she notched yet another 2nd at the
Kia Classic, before returning to Japan to once again finish second,
this time losing a playoff. She finally got her first win the week
after that, but in her next event, she finished - second! All in
all, it was a great year in Japan for Inbee. In limited action she
notched two wins, her other win being the final event of the year,
the Ricoh Cup, which was also a Major. In all, she had 10 top tens
in 14 starts.
Her LPGA year was also very impressive. She shattered
her record for most top tens in a year, collecting 11, including
top tens in all four Majors. She did not win, but had a second (at
the aforementioned Kia Classic), a third, and a fourth among those
11 top tens. She finished 11th on the money list, a fantastic return
to form after struggling so much after her Open win.
2011 was not so good a season for Park, although
she still finished 31st on the money list. On the LPGA tour, she
had three top tens. Her best moment came at the Ricoh British Women's
Open in August. She shot a second round 64 to move into a share
of the lead. She was not able to hold on, however, finishing 7th
in the end. She also had a tie for 6th at the US Women's Open, and
made it to the round of 16 at the Sybase Match Play.
Inbee did better on the JLPGA in 2011, capturing
a win at the Daikin Orchid Ladies Open, the first event of the season.
She won by three strokes over Japanese star Miki Saiki, and was
4 ahead of Bo Mee Lee and Bo Bae Song.
In 2012, Inbee Park had a career year, but it didn't
start out that way. In her first nine events of the LPGA season,
she finished no better than 12th. But starting at the LPGA Championship,
she caught fire in a huge way. She finished tied for 9th that week,
and proceeded to achieve top ten finishes in ten straight events.
Most of those finishes were top threes. She lost in a playoff at
the next event, the Manulife Classic. She followed that with a 4th
place in Arkansas, a 9th at the US Women's Open, then her first
win of the season at the Evian Masters. Her win there was extraordinary,
as she carded a mindblowing 22 putts in the final round and just
98 putts over four rounds. That win was her first on the LPGA since
her US Women's Open win in 2008.
Inbee was far from done. She finished tied for third
at the Farr, followed by a solo second at the Canadian Women's Open
(but she made the first place check because she lost to amateur
Lydia Ko that week). She had another runner-up finish at the British
Open, then her second win of the year at the Sime Darby Malaysia.
In all, she earned roughly $1.8 million in her ten tournament streak.
This is more money than all but a handful of Koreans have ever earned
in an entire season.
Inbee finished the year with two wins, six runner-up
finishes and ten top fives. She became the first Korean to ever
break $2 million in a single season, and led the tour's money list.
Her scoring average of 70.21 also led the league, winning her the
Vare Trophy. She led the league in both putting statistics, was
second in rounds under par and rounds in the sixties, third in birdies,
and second in Player of the Year standings.
Inbee also played on the JLPGA a bit in 2012, winning
once and notching several more runner-up finishes. She finished
second in three of the year's four Majors, and in all three cases,
she had a great chance to win but just came up short. 2012 was a
truly amazing breakthrough year for Inbee, who finished the year
ranked fourth in the world, her highest spot to date.
Incredibly, as good as her 2012 season was, her
2013 season was a quantum leap forward into rarefied air that left
2012 in the dust. She quickly rose to the top ranking in the world
and held onto it the rest of the year. Her record smashing accomplishments
established her as the undisputed top player among the Koreans and,
for much of the year, the best female player in the world, period.
It was one of the very greatest seasons a Korean had ever had, perhaps
the very greatest.
Inbee started the year with a second place finish
at an LET event in China. At her first LPGA event of the year in
Thailand, she looked headed for another runner-up finish as she
putted out on her last hole. But the tournament leader, Thai teen
Ariya Jutanugarn, imploded with a triple bogey on the final hole,
handing the win to Inbee. It would be the first of many victories
The next few events, Inbee was somewhat off her
game, but she returned to form in time for the year's first Major.
By the third round, Inbee was firmly in charge, and when the only
player anywhere close to her stumbled on the first hole of the fourth
round, Inbee had a stress free final day to claim her first Kraft
Nabisco title and second career Major. She saved some of the pond
water for her dad, who was not there, so she could later pour it
over his head!
Shortly after that win, Inbee rose to #1 in the
world for the first time in her career. She did a good job staying
there, She finished 4th at the next tournament, then won her third
title of 2013 at the North Texas Shootout. She had another top ten
and her only missed cut of the year after that. But at the year's
second Major, the LPGA Championship, Inbee was once again ready
to go. She established the lead and seemed poised for another Major
triumph. But on the final few holes, she struggled, falling back
to the field. Somehow she hung on to tie Catriona Matthew and force
a playoff. Amazingly, she refocused and played great during the
three hole playoff, making birdie to seal her second straight Major
Inbee's win sparked a brilliant June in which she
went undefeated. It was in all likelihood the greatest month a Korean
golfer has ever had. Her fifth win of the year came at the NW Arkansas
tournament. Good friend So Yeon Ryu four-putted to fall out of the
lead, but clawed back to force a playoff with Inbee. But it only
took one hole for Park to claim another trophy.
Then came the highlight of Inbee's entire career
to date. At the US Women's Open played at Sebonack, she was paired
with #2 and #3 in the world the first two rounds and thoroughly
dominated. #2 Suzann Pettersen missed the cut, while #3 Stacy Lewis
was not a factor again. Inbee's lead was so strong that by the middle
of the third round only IK Kim was anywhere close. Kim tried her
best, but could not carve into Inbee's advantage, and Inbee sailed
to her third straight Major win and second US Women's Open trophy.
She became only the second woman in LPGA history to win the year's
first three Majors, starting talk of the almost inconceivable Calendar
Year Grand Slam (the other to do this did it in the first year the
LPGA existed, in 1950). She also became the first Korean to win
the Open twice, the first to win three Majors in a season, and the
first, of course, to win three Majors in a row. It was also her
third straight win in a row, making her the first Korean to ever
Inbee would not win again in 2013, however. She
struggled a bit under the weight of media scrutiny and did not contend
at the last two Majors. But she did rally at the end of the year
as Pettersen started to close the gap on her for Player of the Year.
Park made two top fives to end her year and clinch the Player of
the Yeat trophy. At last, after fifteen years, a Korean had captured
the one award that had eluded them all in the past. For good measure,
she also won the money list for the second straight year, making
more money than any Korean in history (nearly $2.5 million). She
also shattered her scoring record by .3 of a point, going under
70 for the first time. And she had by the end of the year stayed
#1 in the world longer than any Korean before her.
How will Inbee handle being the top player in the
world going forward? Will she get used to the pressure and heightened
scrutiny and start to shine again? Can she possibly top her 2013
season? It'll be fun to watch!!