Inbee Park is knocking on history’s door at the historic Old Course at St. Andrews. The problem is she’s doing it with the sound of Scottish crickets all around her.
With shockingly little fanfare from outside the women’s game, Park is on a quest to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive major at the 2013 Ricoh Women’s British Open and opened with a three-under 69 on Thursday. As a result, she sits just two shots off the lead and only 54 holes from golf immortality.
No golfer—man or woman—has won four consecutive majors in a calendar year during the modern era, yet that’s exactly what Park is endeavoring to do this weekend. Despite being on the cusp of such an enormous feat, Park remains at best a secondary golf storyline and completely off the radar in regard to mainstream sports coverage.
By winning the first three majors of the year, she’s already put herself into the stratosphere of the legendary Babe Zaharias, Mickey Wright and Pat Bradley. You wouldn't know it, however, by the relative silence surrounding her.
With the British Open underway, her quest is being overshadowed in her own sport by Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods playing the Bridgestone Invitational a week prior to the PGA Championship. Outside of golf, PEDs in baseball and just about any topic that includes the National Football League is trumping Park by a mile.
The lack of coverage isn't lost on fellow players, commentators and leaders of the women’s game who have marveled both at what the talented 25-year-old is poised to accomplish and how little play it seems to be getting.
"For what Inbee is doing right now, she's not getting the credit that she deserves," former World No. 1 Stacy Lewis told reporters. "If somebody was doing this on the men's tour, it would be being talked over and over and over again for a month before the major, not just a couple days before this that it starts getting talked about.”
It’s hard to argue with that assertion, but it’s also unlikely most golf fans could pick Park out of a lineup if their lives depended on it.
That’s a troubling issue considering the South Korean, who now calls the United States home, has dominated the sport this year, winning six times, including going three-for-three in majors. She captured the Kraft Nabisco and LPGA Championship earlier this year and added her second U.S. Open crown in early July.
Perhaps it’s because of her quiet personality or the fact that women’s golf has struggled to gain momentum stateside, but the attention being paid to Park pales significantly to the accomplishment she is poised to achieve this weekend.
It may also be that even with a first-ever British Open victory, Park would still be one shy of sweeping the majors in 2013. In an effort to increase its exposure into the fall months, the sport added a fifth major this year—The Evian Women’s Masters—which takes place this September in France.
Whatever the reason, the fact is that Park is poised to accomplish a feat that would rank among the most significant in golf’s storied history regardless of gender.
To put it in perspective for the women’s game, other than Park, only the legendary Zaharias has won the first three professional majors in a season. Only two others—Wright (1961) and Bradley (1986)—have even won three in a single season, albeit not in succession.
From a broader perspective, the last golfer to win four consecutive majors is a guy named Tiger Woods, who accomplished the legendary “Tiger Slam” in 2000 and 2001. The only female golfer to do that was Wright, who captured the final two majors in 1961 and the first two in 1962.
In comments reported by the Golf Channel, Bradley echoed the thoughts of many in regard to the attention due, but not coming to, the soft-spoken Park.
“I hope people will recognize how hard this young lady has worked to get to this historical moment,” Bradley said before the tournament began. “I hope she is given the due recognition.”
For her part, Park isn't worrying about the lack of attention her play in majors has gotten. She’s focused on what she can achieve this weekend at St. Andrews.
“Having this type of opportunity at the British Open, and just the fact that I could have this type of opportunity is very special to me,” Park said earlier this week. “Yeah, if it could happen it’s something I will never forget. My name will be in the history of golf forever, even after I die, so it will be some special feeling.”
The marketing machine that is ESPN is airing this week’s British Open, so if Park indeed is in contention come Saturday and Sunday, the noise around her will undoubtedly be ramped up. For her part, Park is ready for that. She even appears to welcome it.
“Obviously it is tougher to play with pressure than without pressure,” Park said. “This is what I love to do, and if the pressure is something that comes with playing good golf that’s something a professional golfer has to handle, something I need to handle for doing something I like.”
The bottom line is that, considering its significance, Park’s quest should be getting more run from the media. In general, more respect is due. That said, the significance of this historic chase shouldn't and won’t be connected to how many people outside of the women’s game pay attention.
In fact, if Park does indeed capture her fourth major of 2013 on Sunday, those who missed it for whatever reason will be the ones who missed out on a rare opportunity to see history made.