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Can Park keep form and defend U.S. title?
June 18, 2014

Inbee Park will try to defend her U.S. Women’s Open title this week but will have to battle 155 other players and the demanding setup at Pinehurst No. 2. Park, who also won the event in 2008, will attempt to become just the fifth player in history to record three wins at the U.S. Women’s Open. She’s in prime form coming into the second major of the LPGA Tour season and is fresh off her first win of the year at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic two weeks ago.

In addition to the ladies following the men for the first time ever, more history will be made this week. Fifty-three year old and World Golf and LPGA Halls of Famer Juli Inkster will make her 35th appearance at the national championship and announced on Wednesday that it will be her last. Her 35 starts marks a championship record, two more than Marlene Hagge with 33.

One of the biggest storylines of the week has been the pristine playing conditions upheld by the track at No. 2. Concerns of divots and banged up greens have now been washed away and the ladies can now turn their focus on taming the turtleback greens and native areas featured throughout the course since the redesign in 2011.

Another familiar face: Lydia Ko is accustomed to fans recognizing her. But her caddie? That hasn’t exactly been the case previously for Ko, who had two local caddies on her bag during her two wins on the LPGA Tour as an amateur.

But this week Ko has a very well-known name on her bag in Mike “Fluff” Cowan. The PGA Tour caddie will be treking around Pinehurst No. 2 for a second straight week as he had the bag for his regular player, Jim Furyk, in last week’s U.S. Open.

“I think personally he’s more famous than me,” Ko said of Cowan. “I was walking down [the range] with David

Leadbetter, Mike and I, and a lot of people were asking for their autographs.”

Ko was a little bit of a fan herself this past weekend when she arrived at Pinehurst early to watch some of the U.S. Open. On Saturday, she walked the golf course with the fans to watch Adam Scott and Jordan Speith and then had the opportunity to meet a couple of the players. Her reactions on Sunday as she walked the range and Ernie Els said hello and Sergio Garcia asked to meet her were priceless, the kind only given by a 17-year-old who still hasn’t grasped what she’s accomplished in the game of golf. But it’s that modesty and excitement that Ko demonstrates on a daily basis which make her such a likeable player on the LPGA Tour.

“After I met one, I kind of had a mental breakdown, it wasn’t functioning for a while,” Ko joked during her press conference on Wednesday. “But it was just really cool. I probably won’t be able to see the PGA tour players for a long time again. Hopefully, this kind of thing might happen more often, I don’t know. I was just super excited that some of them knew who I was. I really wanted to meet Gary Woodland. He’s part of Callaway now, and I was watching on Sunday, on the 17th hole and he came up to me and another player, Sue Kim, and gave us a handshake. That was pretty cool to kind of do it during his round.”

Ko now will turn her focus on trying to win her first major championship. She came close last year at the Evian Championship where she finished runner-up to Suzann Pettersen, marking her best finish in a major.

“Just winning a Major championship would pretty much be up there,” Ko said of where it would rank in her accomplishements. “It would be the top. Everybody strives to win tournaments. And the Majors are the biggest out of them all. Yeah, that would do a lot with my confidence. I don’t know when that may be, but, yeah, just having fun and enjoying the moment will hopefully bring that kind where I could hold a Major tournament trophy.”

Experience is key: Cristie Kerr will be making her 19th appearance at the U.S. Women’s Open this week at Pinehurst No. 2 and said when asked how big of a difference maker winning the national championship was, she answered without hesitation.

“Oh, it was huge,” said Kerr who won her first of two major victories at the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open. “I’d always dreamed of winning The Open as a little girl and watching it on TV. It was a moment that was a step forward in my career.”

Kerr said winning her first major just five minutes down the road from Pinehurst at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in 2007 changed her entire mindset.

“The biggest moment at the time,” said Kerr. “But I also had to learn how to handle everything that came with it. And most of the time when somebody wins an Open, they definitely have a little lull in their career, and I did back then, as well, because you have to adjust your mindset. You have to -- you’re now a Major winner and sometimes you feel like you need to reinvent the wheel, but you don’t. So it was a huge moment for me. It made me grow.”

Kerr has historically played well at the Opens, having recorded six additional top-10 finishes to her win, including three in the past five years. The 18-year LPGA Tour veteran said she thinks experience will be a key factor this week.

“I feel different being a U.S. Open champion and I think having that under my belt for this week is going to help, because I was talking to Hollis Stacy about that last night, three-time U.S. Open champion, and she feels like someone who has won a U.S. Open before will win here,” said Kerr. “Because of the experience and the patience it takes to be able to win on this golf course.”

Final goodbye? Juli Inkster is getting ready to compete in her 35th U.S. Women’s Open this week but that record number of appearances won’t likely increase after this year. During her press conference on Wednesday morning, Inkster said that this will probably be the final time she tees it up in the national championship.

“Shoot, I’ve played in 35 of these,” Inkster said. “So that’s pretty impressive. I love where I am right now. I look at the young girls out there and I’m like, wow, I’m so glad I’m not starting. So I’ve really enjoyed golf. I’ve really enjoyed the competition. I love playing. I’ve got a lot of new stuff, Solheim stuff, and doing a little TV commentating. I’m going to still be out here and be busy, but I’m definitely not going to play as much.”

The LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame member has cut back her playing schedule this year and has started to transition into a new role -- TV. Inkster has worked two LPGA events for Golf Channel so far this season and is excited about the newest role she’s playing out on Tour.

“I like it,” Inkster said of working in TV. “ I like the people I work with. I think when I kind of get the hang of it a little better, because they really don’t tell you what to do or how to do it. So I’m kind of learning on the fly.”

While this may be her final go-around at the U.S. Women’s Open as a player, Inkster said the memories of all of them will stay with her -- especially that very first one as an amateur in 1978 -- and she showed off her usual humor in describing the experience.

“All I remember is they had brand new Titleists on the range,” Inkster said. “And I’d hit one and I’d put one in my golf bag. And I’d hit one and I’d put one in my golf bag. I’m sure I was over the 50 pound limit flying home. But I had new golf balls. I remember everything was pristine. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Check out my video: Although her numbers didn’t support the claim that she was struggling with her putting, Rolex Rankings No. 2 Inbee Park said she’s finally found some new mojo with the part of her game that helped her win three major championships last season. Park went nearly the first six months of the season without a win to start 2014 and complained how her putting was holding her back. Hard to say for a player who leads the Tour in putting average (28.76) and ranks second in putts per GIR (1.745).

“I mean, putting has been my strongest thing with my game,” said Park. “So like this year it’s been, I think considering how I’ve putted in the past, I think this year is probably the worst I’ve putted in a while. Because my ball-striking was getting a lot better in the last couple of years. And I put myself in good positions off the tee, off the fairway, but, yeah, just never struggled with the putter. I never thought that would be my problem.”

Park’s longtime caddie, Brad Beecher, urged her to watch some highlight film from her major wins last season to spark some putting inspiration. Park noticed her follow through coming up higher than she expected and made the minor adjustment. She put on a putting exhibition in Waterloo and led the field in putts, leading her to her first win of the year at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic.

“I just really try to go back to my old stroke,” said Park. “I just feel really good about how I putted last year and how I stroked it last year. So I try to look at the videos of me last year and try to see the rhythm and the putting stroke from last year. It felt like my putter head was coming too much -- too high from the ground when I did the follow through. So I try to do it lower to the ground. And that seemed like it’s working well.”

Park was asked how she went about searching herself for highlight videos, whether she Googled her name or typed into Youtube. She said she took the Youtube route and also watched some copies of film that her dad had kept.

“I just put my name in there and there’s a lot of videos,” said Park. “But I actually -- my dad has the tape of the U.S. Open last year. So it’s easier to get it off him. Because like he has the highlights and he has everything. My dad has all my videos.”

Show me the money: The USGA officially announced today that the women will compete for a $4 million purse this week at Pinehurst. The amount marks the highest total purse in LPGA Tour history. It’s also a $750,000 increase from $3.25 million purse at Sebonack last year.

Quotes of the day: “I haven’t dropped any F-bombs. I haven’t gone viral. So I feel like I’ve done pretty good for two weeks.” -- Juli Inkster on her new gig working part-time in TV, drawing lots of laughter from the interview room

“I don’t think it’s a losing proposition, I think we’re better looking (laughter)” –Cristie Kerr on whether she thought it was a losing proposition for the women to be compared to the men this week

“I just realized that, this year, how good I play last year, because my standards are high and my fan’s standards are high. Everybody else around me, the standards are so high, that it’s really hard to accomplish. And this year, even if I was having top-10s every week, I wasn’t satisfied. I was satisfied last year if I finished top-10. I think that was a change of my mindset.” –Inbee Park on assessing her own expectations for her recent performances

The social scene: Karrie Webb is a seven-time major champion and that includes two U.S. Women’s Open victories. Webb was joined by a number of other U.S. Women’s Open champions on Tuesday night for the Champions Dinner at the Pinehurst Resort & Golf Club.


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