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.
Inbee was understandably distracted in 2014, as
she planned to get married to her longtime fiancé Gi Hyeob
Nam in October. She did not win early on, although she started her
year with four straight top tens including a runner-up at the Honda
Thailand in defense of her title. Inbee did win an LET event in
China in April, fending off Suzann Pettersen in a great mano-a-mano
battle in the final round. But Inbee did not get her first LPGA
win until June, when she shot a final round 61, her best ever score,
to capture the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic.
Inbee had a great chance to complete her career
Grand Slam at the British Open. Leading going into the final round,
she struggled all day, and was not able to make the shots she needed
to take the title. She finished fourth. The next event, however,
was the first ever International Crown. Inbee teamed with So Yeon
Ryu to win two matches. As it turned out, Korea and the US were
tied for the final spot; only one team would advance to the final
day. Inbee and So Yeon teamed to take down the Americans Lexi Thompson
and Cristie Kerr, and Korea advanced.
That playoff win seemed to energize the entire Korean
contingent on the LPGA. Whereas before that they had only one win
in 2014, after that, Koreans went on a tear. At the next event,
the Meier Classic, Inbee wound up in a playoff with rookie Mirim
Lee, but it was Lee who won. The next event after that was the LPGA
Championship. Inbee charged into the playoff after making two clutch
putts on the final two holes. One hole of playoff with Brittany
Lincicome was all it took for Inbee to claim her fifth career Major.
She tied Se Ri Pak for most Majors by any Korean in history.
Inbee continued to make top ten after top ten, threatening
to catch Stacy Lewis for the #1 spot in the rankings (Park had lost
the #1 to Lewis just before her Manulife win). The week of the Hana
Bank, she married Nam, with four LPGA stars serving as bridesmaids
(Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, IK Kim and Ji Young Oh). Just a few days later,
she was in contention at the event, but came up one birdie short
of the playoff won by KLPGA star Kyu Jung Baek.
Not to worry: Inbee climbed to the #1 spot after
a runner-up finish at the KLPGA's final Major, the KB Star Tour.
She then faced down and beat Lewis at the Fubon Championship in
Taiwan for her third win of the year. Inbee would hang onto the
#1 ranking for the rest of the year.
Inbee also had a shot at catching Lewis for the
LPGA Player of the Year, trailing by just three points entering
the year's final event. But Lewis hung on and won all the big awards.
Inbee had to settle for #2 on the money list, her third straight
season with more than $2 million earned. She was also #2 in POY
and Scoring Average.(her average of 69.68 was her lowest yet). Inbee
also had 17 top tens, her career best and one of the best top ten
totals for a Korean in LPGA history. Another amazing year for the
Not surprisingly, Inbee had another phenomenal season
in 2015. She started the year the number one golfer in the world,
but eventually was caught and passed by Lydia Ko, who then became
the youngest woman to ever reach the top spot. Inbee got the top
ranking back after the summer, only to lose it to Ko again towards
the end of the year.
Inbee missed a top ten in her first start, but finished
5th and 7th in her next two. Then came one of her great streaks
of the year. Starting in the third round of the Honda Thailand event,
extending through the entire HSBC Champions, and going a few holes
into the next event, Inbee notched 94 straight holes without a bogey.
During the HSBC, she wound up playing her Sunday round with the
other top two golfers in the world, Lydia Ko and Stacy Lewis. Park
simply outplayed them, unflappable as always, to collect her first
win of the year.
A few weeks later, Inbee was again in the final
group, this time at the Lotte Championship. It seemed like she had
her second win of the year in the bag when Sei Young Kim hit her
drive on the final hole into the water. But Kim made a chip-in par
save to force a playoff, then dunked an unbelievable 153 yard shot
for eagle on the playoff hole to win. Inbee had to settle for second.
A few weeks after that, Inbee won her second North
Texas shootout with a scintillating final round 65 that could have
been even lower had a few bad breaks not occurred. In June, Inbee
once again found herself in the final group on Sunday with Sei Young
Kim, this time at a Major, the KPMG Women's PGA Championship (formerly
known as the LPGA Championship). Park was a two time defending champion,
and though this event was played on its third different course in
three years, Park simply seized control at the turn, winning by
five strokes. Her score tied the lowest with relation to par in
Major history. It was her sixth Major, the most an Asian player
had ever achieved in history. And she became the first Korean to
ever win the same event three years in a row, and of course the
first to win a Major three years running. As a bonus, she reclaimed
the #1 ranking.
A few weeks later, Inbee was in the hunt at the
US Women's Open. But she just couldn't get her putts to fall, and
wound up third. Two weeks after that, she was in Scotland, looking
for her first Women's British Open title. She had been cruelly denied
in 2014, and coming into the ifnal round, she was chasing KLPGA
star Jin Young Ko, who had led for several rounds and seemed to
have fate on her side. But nothing was going to stop Inbee. She
had another of her legendary final rounds, making an eagle on 14
to move to within one, then making a birdie on the brutal 16th to
take the lead. Ko made a double on that same hole moments later,
and Park had her 7th career Major. The win also sealed the Annika
Award for Best Major record in 2015, and the career Grand Slam to
Amazingly, Inbee still had some surprises left in
store. She had moved to within just 2 points of qualifying for the
Hall of Fame. But that's when Lyida Ko went on a tear, winning the
Evian and two other events to reclaim the #1 ranking and the lead
in the scoring average and Player of the Year. Park struck back,
winning the Lorena Ochoa Invitational to move to within 3 points
of Ko in the Player race and ahead of her in scoring (and one point
from the Hall). Their battle came down to the final hole of the
year. Park finished ahead of Ko and won the Vare Trophy, but Ko
finished high enough to hold Park off for the Player of the Year
award. Park's season money total was the highest ever achieved by
a Korean, but Ko's was still higher. Inbee's scoring average, meanwhile,
was the all time lowest for a Korean. And her Vare win gave her
the final point she needed to qualify for the Hall. She will officially
be a member after playing ten events in 2016. Inbee is just the
second Korean to ever make it into the Hall of Fame.
2016 was in some ways the toughest season of Inbee's
career, and in some ways the most glorious. She struggled right
out of the gate with two nagging injuries: a lower back problem,
and a far more damaging left thumb strain. These two problems affected
her so much that it became a chore for her to even finish a tournament,
much less contend. After a runner-up finish at the Kia Classic,
a tie for 6th at the ANA Inspiration, and a 68th in Hawaii, Park
would not make a cut or complete a four round tournament the rest
of the season.
At Sahalee at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship,
Park was going for her fourth win in a row. She missed the cut,
but by playing there completed ten events for 2016, which qualified
her at last for the Hall of Fame, the second Korean to make it into
the Hall. The first Korean Hall of Famer, Se Ri Pak, was there to
congratulate her after her first round, as were several other Hall
Inbee qualified for the International Crown, but
had to drop out due to injury and was replaced by So Yeon Ryu. She
also skipped the remaining three Majors of the season (and indeed,
the KPMG was her final start of the 2016 LPGA year). But she was
determined to play the Olympics, even though the Korean media was
openly questioning whether she should give up her spot to someone
healthier. Park played a KLPGA event two weeks before Rio and missed
the cut, which didn't help her case.
But go to Rio she did, and she was clearly bound
and determined to prove the naysayers wrong. She bolted out of the
gate with back to back 66s to take a slight lead into the weekend,
then produced a 70 in tough conditions to increase her lead to two.
In the final round, she was paired with world #1 Lydia Ko, but didn't
stumble for a minute. After throwing out three straight birdies
starting at hole 3, she increased her lead to five, and never was
threatened again. She won the gold medal by five strokes, tying
the biggest margin of victory in her entire career. It was the crowning
glory of her life: back in South Korea, nearly a quarter of the
population watched live, even though the golf ended at 1:30 AM local
time. All three networks covered that round. Facing the greatest
pressure she had ever faced, with the most doubt she had known,
she came through as only a true champion can.
At the end of the year, Inbee hosted the ING Champions,
a team event pitting the best Koreans from the LPGA tour against
the stars of the KLPGA. Inbee was an unofficial non-playing captain
for the LPGA (Eun Hee Ji was the actual captain). The LPGA won 13-11.
Inbee is busily working to get back in shape for
a healthy return to the LPGA in 2017.