Rolex World Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park knows something about the pressure she’ll face this week as she tries to become the first golfer in history – male or female – to win four professional major titles in a season. After all, she dealt with that same pressure just a month ago at the RICOH Women’s British Open.
While Park fell short in her bid to capture a fourth consecutive major title at the RICOH Women’s British Open in early August, she learned a lot that week at St. Andrews about the scrutiny that surrounds such a historic bid. And entering this week’s Evian Championship, she feels that going through that experience will only help her going forward.
“Because I’ve already felt that kind of pressure before, I think that’s why I don’t feel it as much this [week],” Park said. “I feel a lot more comfortable. I feel like I have experienced something that was so big.
“This week is still very big pressure for me but the experience has helped me a lot. I feel more comfortable going into this week, that’s for sure.”
Park has a chance to make history and she’s fully aware of what is in front of her. Still, she said that winning this week would mean a lot to her for reasons beyond just a fourth major title.
“I mean four out of five majors is very amazing, an amazing thing to achieve,” Park said. “I would really love to win this week not because I’m playing for four majors but because the tournament is really special for me. I just really want to do my best.”
What a year it’s been…When Inbee Park won the 2012 Evian Masters, it ended what had been a four-year winless drought. Park admits that the victory in Evian helped boost her confidence after she had reached a point where she wondered if she would ever return to the winner’s circle again following her victory at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at the age of 19.
Now fast forward 14 months to Park’s return to Evian-Les-Bains, France, and she finds herself in a far different position. The 25-year-old is now ranked No. 1 in the world and has won seven times since her victory here last year, including three major championships this year. Just one walk around town when she’s home in South Korea is symbolic of how much her life has changed over that span.
“When I won Evian last year here, it was only my second win on the LPGA Tour and I wasn’t that much recognised back in Korea because there are so many players who won so many more events than me,” Park said. “I was just one of the Koreans that’s playing on the LPGA Tour. Now so many people now recognise me. And everything about media, all the families and friends, especially when I walk outside the house and go anywhere in Korea, a lot of people come up to me. It’s like I’m a celebrity.”
There have been some major changes to the Evian Resort Golf Course and Park continued: “I was really amazed to see the course change dramatically in one year,” said Inbee Park, who won the 2012 Evian Masters at this venue. “I couldn’t imagine how much work they have put in to make this work. This course looks great. The layout is great. I think it’s really like a true major golf course now.”
Read Inbee’s full preview interview here:
INBEE PARK, Rolex Rankings No. 1
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for joining us this morning. Bonjour, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us this morning. We have Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park with us. Also the defending champion; you won the Evian Masters here last year. First off, welcome back. Always good, I’m sure, to come back here. First off, winning this event last year when it wasn’t a major, how different is now to come back with this event having a major title?
INBEE PARK: This tournament has been always a special tournament for me especially winning last year. In four years there was such a special memory.
Coming back here in a year with the course totally changed, I was really amazed to see the course change dramatically in one year. I couldn’t imagine how much work they have put in to make this work. This course looks great. The layout is great. I think it’s really like a true major golf course now.
I’m really excited to play this week and looking forward to going into this week.
Q. As you mentioned that victory last year was a big one for you. It ended a four‑year winless drought. And you have been on a roll ever since. Seven victories since your win and six this year. What has the past year, what has that stretch been like for you to be able to put together such tremendous golf?
INBEE PARK: This tournament gave me a lot of confidence going into my game.
And after the win this week last year, I just felt more comfortable on the golf course, more confidence on the course. This tournament and this win gave me the big confidence. I mean, this is always very special. I really want to play on this golf course again.
Q. Part of your incredible year has been the fact that you won the first three majors of the LPGA season. Didn’t win the British, but now you have the chance to become the first golfer ever in history to win four professional major titles in the same season. What does that accomplishment mean to you? Are you focused on it this week? Do you think about what that would mean to be the first to do that?
INBEE PARK: Well, I mean four out of five majors is very amazing, an amazing thing to achieve. I would really love to win this week not because I’m playing for four majors but because the tournament is really special for me. I just really want to do my best.
I’m sure the experience I had in the British Open, all the pressure I had and the things I experienced in the British will help me going through this week. I think this week is going to be a much better week.
Q. Is any hole out now here that you think, Oh, golly, I would rather have that hole from last year?
INBEE PARK: I have got to say the 18th hole. It’s became a much tougher hole almost teeing up from the same spot, becoming par‑4 from par‑5. So it is a very tough hole. Especially going to long clubs in the second shot with a little bit of a downhill lie, slice hole, just a very challenging hole.
I had a lot of success on the 18th hole last year. This year the par is going to be a very good score. That is something I’m going to try to ‑‑
Q. Can you remember what you got last year on that hole?
INBEE PARK: I think I at least birdied like twice or three times last year.
Q. What other changes do you notice to the course? Looking at the greens yesterday walking around, I’d like to hear your quotes and feelings about that. What else besides the 18th?
INBEE PARK: Everything on the golf course, a lot of the fairway bunkers came into play. The built a lot of fairway bunkers and obviously they lengthened a lot of the holes.
Some of the fairways were really sloped and they really evened that out to not slope that much. The greens are a lot bigger. They were a lot smaller. Now greens are really huge and a lot of undulation. So you really need to pick your spot where you can land it.
Q. Can you talk about the pressure that you felt at the Women’s British Open with so much talk of history and how it affected you and maybe how it compares to what you are feeling now?
INBEE PARK: I think just because I’ve already felt that kind of pressure before this year, I think that’s why I don’t feel it as much this year. I feel a lot more comfortable. I feel like I have experienced something that was so big.
This week is still very big pressure for me but the experience has helped me a lot. I feel more comfortable going into this week, that’s for sure.
Q. Did you watch the Solheim Cup at all?
INBEE PARK: Yes, I did.
Q. And what were your thoughts watching that? What new matches would you like to have that would involve you?
INBEE PARK: Well, I think the team play in itself is very exciting. It puts so much pressure on you. It’s something that’s really different to what we’re playing at the moment. We’re playing individual game. That is something you have to have your teamwork with your teammates. I really wanted to be part of it too.
We’re going to have International Crown starting next year. So all the Asian players, all the players who didn’t get to play in the Solheim are really excited to play next year in the International Crown. I would love to play in some kind of team play. I think that’s going to be exciting.
Q. Could there be a Korean team, purely Korean against America or against ‑‑
INBEE PARK: Well, I don’t know. Whatever they can put on, I think, is going to be fun, you know.
Q. International Crown is country versus country. There are eight countries that will qualify for the event with a total of four players per country qualifying by Rolex Rankings. So right now South Korea is the top country because I think the total right now is like 20 points maybe because you guys are ranked so high up there. Inbee leading the way at the No. 1 ranking. Looking forward to seeing you in that competition.
INBEE PARK: So hard to get in the Korean team because you pretty much have to be World Ranking No. 10 to get in. Hopefully I’ll get in.
Q. Can you talk about just how all the attention you got this year, the pressure that’s come with it, just how it’s affected you as a player and person?
INBEE PARK: I really think this season I’m really learning some new things every week. Especially after Kraft, after that I actually felt some kind of pressure after that. It built up a little bit more and more every week that went on.
I feel like the pressure is my friend now. It’s getting a lot more comfortable on me. I’m trying to learn everything. I’m trying to learn from everything, yeah.
Q. We’ve seen around the world the attention you get at the events. What is it like now when you go back to Korea? What is it like with the media there? How much has it changed over the past year in terms of how much you are recognized?
INBEE PARK: When I won Evian last year here, it was only my second win on the LPGA Tour and I wasn’t that much recognized back in Korean because there are so many players who won so many more events than me. I was just one of the Korean that’s playing on the LPGA Tour.
Now so many people now realize me. And everything about media, all the families and friends, especially when I walk outside the house and go anywhere in Korea, a lot of people come up to me. It’s like I’m a celebrity.
Q. Coming on from that, what do you do to get rid of the pressure to relax? What do you do in some downtime?
INBEE PARK: I mean, I don’t ‑‑ outside the golf course something other than golf is what I do. Especially like this week I actually went to (indiscernible), and I got a stunning view from there. It’s so relaxing when you can do something other than golf when you are not on the golf course. Trying to go sightseeing or go to movies or do something other than golf, something other than ‑‑ something that won’t put too much pressure on you. I’m trying to do such things like that.
INBEE PARK: Well, I like ‑‑ when I’m in Korea, I like driving. I like watching movies. I like dramas, Korean dramas.
Q. How much have you gotten to drive that new Ferrari around when you have been in Korea?
INBEE PARK: A lot. I went for a drive a lot, you know, couple hours, probably three times a week when I’m there, yeah.
Q. Can you talk about what led to your resurgence? If you are going to point to one thing, what kind of initiated the run of victories?
INBEE PARK: Well, I think actually winning Evian here last year gave me a hope to win again. I really thought, you know, I wasn’t going to be able to win again for not winning for four years.
The win here definitely gave me some kind of hope to win again. That really gave me a lot of confidence on my game.
My game was improving the start of last year, the beginning of the year, but I just couldn’t finish in the top 10 before I came here. After the confidence I got here, I was able to go and win.
Q. Obviously winning the Open, U.S. Open, was a huge boost. In this four years how disappointed did you feel how low did you get not winning again until you got here?
INBEE PARK: It was really hard because as a golfer you want to, you know, go to the tournament and you want to win. I couldn’t have done it for over a hundred tournaments and that was quite hard.
Sometimes I really wanted to give up and do something that doesn’t give me as much stress. There is a lot of thoughts going on in those times. I really thought I have to be patient and wait for the time to come and it finally did.
Q. What would you have considered as a career that wouldn’t have any stress?
INBEE PARK: What is it?
Q. What did you have in mind? What ran through your head?
INBEE PARK: I thought because the golf is giving me so much stress, other than golf wouldn’t give me so much stress. I was really young back then and I thought if I don’t play golf, I would be stress‑free.
Now I think about it and it’s really not true. Everything that you do, there has stress to it. This is something that I can handle now. Back then I wasn’t ready to handle this kind of pressure, handle that kind of stress.
INBEE PARK: He asked me about how I feel now. I got a good relax from Korea the last ten days. I feel really good about coming here. I’m healthy.
INBEE PARK: I think somebody to watch out this week is definitely Stacy. I think she is in her best condition at the moment, especially coming from a win from British Open and runner up finish from last week.
I played Stacy last year here in the final round. We had a really good competition. So I think her game really suits this golf course.
Q. When you won the Evian last year, if somebody said to you what’s going to happen a year around or 14 months, would you have believed it?
INBEE PARK: I would have believed it because that’s something that I want to believe in. Something like that could happen. I obviously have proven that, yeah.
Q. Now we have five majors for women’s golf. You still have a chance to win four of them.
INBEE PARK: Well, I think that this means we have so many good tournaments, so many good major tournaments on the LPGA Tour. I think it’s very good for the Tour and for the players, I think it’s a lot more opportunity to play in the challenging golf course. You can challenge yourself. It’s a lot more opportunities for players, I think.
Q. Is Stacy a rival? Is she somebody you pay attention to and pushes you?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, starting since last year I always watched Stacy’s score after I finish my round. She’s been somebody that I have always thought that she has the game to be No. 1. She definitely ‑‑ she is good ball striker.
I really try to learn from her what she is doing good at. I think she is such a nice person outside the golf course, too. I think having somebody like that, definitely helps your game to improve.
Q. Could you pick out any European players that you see as sort of your chief challenges here?
INBEE PARK: I was watching the Solheim Cup and there were so many talented European players. One of them will be Caroline Hedwall. Her game at the Solheim with the pressure was amazing. So I think she would be one of the ones to watch out.
Catriona Matthew, I’m playing with her the next two days and she definitely has the game to play good on this golf course.
Q. Along on that line, what young players do you see coming up maybe from Korea or that you see that you think have potential and are going to rise and blossom?
INBEE PARK: I have got to say Lydia, Lydia Ko. She has proven that she can win out here right now. No really words to describe her.
Q. Anybody else?
INBEE PARK: Younger generation?
Q. Did you get to watch Charley Hull?
INBEE PARK: I have watched her also and I think she ‑‑ she will be one of the ones that will be competing with Lydia, yeah.
Q. Your the World Ranking No. 1 and you won majors in several of the five, what is it that ‑‑ if you had one wish like for four years ago, it would have been majors or World Ranking No. 1, but what is it now?
INBEE PARK: What is my goal now? Something to wish? I just want to be happier person, I mean happy person. Probably I wish that tomorrow is more happy than today. If you can leave your day with a smile, I think that’s all I can ask for really.
INBEE PARK: I think a lot of the players are really competing for each other and there is a lot of Korean players that are inspiring each other, so I think that really helps to improve your game.
Also the support from the families and all the people back in Korea. Golf is just so natural when you are growing up in Korea, I think. They just love golf.
Q. What is the condition of your confidence for this tournament?
INBEE PARK: I get to read these greens a little bit better last year. I was struggling on these greens five or six years when I came here. Now the greens are totally changed and everybody is playing a new green. I think the speed is good. And I just really need to see these greens a lot more.
I came here Saturday to see this course enough. So I think that would help me this weekend.