Inbee Park becomes youngest winner of US Women's Open
Inbee Park woke up in the middle of the night 10 years ago when she heard cheering from the living room of her tiny apartment outside Seoul.
EDINA, Minn. - Inbee Park woke up in the middle of the night 10 years ago when she heard cheering from the living room of her tiny apartment outside Seoul.
Her parents were up at 3 a.m. to watch Se Ri Pak become the first South Korean and the youngest winner of the U.S. Women's Open. The nine-year-old girl sat down with them to watch, half asleep, but definitely paying attention.
"When she made a putt, they were screaming," Park said. "So I really could not sleep."
Two days later, she placed her tiny hands around a golf club for the first time.
On Sunday, Park wrapped hands around the biggest trophy in women's golf, capturing the U.S. Women's Open at Interlachen with nearly flawless golf over the final 10 holes as everyone else melted away.
"I didn't know anything about golf back then, but I was watching her," Park said. "It was very impressive for a little girl. I just thought that I could do it, too."
Two weeks shy of her 20th birthday, Park replaced Pak as the youngest Women's Open champion. She pulled away with crucial putts on three straight holes - two birdies and one par - early on the back nine and added a final birdie for a 2-under 71 and a four-shot victory over Helen Alfredsson.
Park was the only player in the final nine groups to break par. She finished at 9-under 283 and earned US$585,000, then got soaked at the end of a sunny afternoon when Jeong Jang and I.K. Kim rushed onto the green and doused her with beer.
"Really, I can't believe I just did this, especially with all these big names on the trophy that have been very, very successful with the golf," Park said, gazing at the silver championship trophy. "Hopefully, I'll put a couple of my names on there. It will be great."
It was a shocker for everyone else, but for different reasons.
Alfredsson began the final round tied with Park, two shots out of the lead and hopeful she could finally atone for her collapse 14 years ago in the Women's Open, took 35 putts in her final round of 75.
"She played fantastic," said Alfredsson, who played with Park. "She was very calm, never changed anything. And really, that's very impressive for a 19-year-old. She's going to win a lot more."
Stacy Lewis, trying to become the first player to win a major in her professional debut, made double bogey from 80 yards in front of the green on the par-5 second hole and staggered home to a 78 to tie for third at 288.
"I finished third at the U.S. Open, my first pro event," Lewis said. "It's kind of hard to be upset."
Paula Creamer, who started the final round one shot behind Lewis and said her experience of six LPGA victories would be a big advantage, made two double bogeys on the front nine for a 41 and scrambled for a 78.
Creamer's final round scoring average in the U.S. Women's Open is 75.2.
"It's probably the most disappointed I've been in a very long time," she said.
No one imagined the only drama on the back nine would come from Annika Sorenstam, who was never in contention competing in her final Women's Open before retirement at the end of the season.
Her final shot was a 6-iron from 199 yards that tumbled into the cup for eagle.
"Leaving with another great memory, that's for sure," Sorenstam said after closing with a 78 to finish 12 shots behind in a tie for 24th. "Maybe not the one I had in mind, but I'll take it."
Such highlights were rare for everyone else.
Park was the only player to break par all four days at Interlachen, a course that showed its strength in the final round with 32 km/h wind that made it tough to keep on the right side of the hole.
The lowest score Sunday belonged to 15-year-old Jessica Korda, the daughter of '98 Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda, who caddied for her. She shot a 69 and tied for 19th.
Park became the third player in the last six years to make the U.S. Women's Open her first LPGA Tour victory, and it was reminiscent of Birdie Kim's victory three years ago at Cherry Hills, minus the dramatic bunker shot for birdie on the 72nd hole.
There were so many possibilities for great story lines going into the final round - Lewis and her remarkable recovery from back surgery that almost ended her career before she got to college; Creamer, looking poised to finally get a major to go with her marketing campaign; Alfredsson finally hopeful of U.S. Open redemption at 43.
Instead, it was Park who stole the show by simply playing the best golf.
Equipped with a two-shot lead when Lewis bogeyed the eighth and ninth, Park poured it on with a 10-foot birdie on the 11th, saving par from the bunker with an 8-foot putt on No. 12, and a 6-foot birdie on the 13th.
"Everything happened so fast. It's scary," Park said. "I really tried to stay calm, but it was so exciting, I couldn't do it. This is my day."
Park continued international dominance of the LPGA majors, as Americans have won only six of the last 31.
Lorena Ochoa of Mexico, who had finished no worse than third in the last four majors and won two of them, never got on track at Interlachen and closed with a 74 to tie for 31st.
Park's mother, Song Kim, was with her at Interlachen, but her father could not make it.
"My dad almost was going to fly to this event yesterday, but I'm like, 'No, it's OK. Stay home, you can watch TV."'
Just like he was doing 10 years ago, only this time watching his daughter become the youngest Open champion.