Inbee Park wins U.S. Women's Open for third straight major

Inbee Park kisses the U.S. Women's Open trophy after winning the tournament at Sebonack. (June 30, 2013)

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Inbee Park's calm and confidence are summed up perfectly in the bouncy, jaunty way she walks from one shot to another. It shows that she is perfectly comfortable moving around a golf course, even when she is striding headlong into history.

With unflappable ease, amid the pressure of winning a major championship and the brisk winds at Sebonack Golf Club, Park won the U.S. Women's Open Sunday, and did much more. The 24-year-old from South Korea became the first golfer since Babe Zaharias in 1950 to have won the first three majors in a season and now has the chance to become the first golfer, male or female, to win the professional Grand Slam -- four majors in a year.

"I don't know what I just did today. It's scary to think about what I'm capable of doing," she said after finishing Long Island's first Women's Open at 8 under par, four shots clear of countrywoman I.K. Kim.

Park was born in Korea, but moved to Las Vegas when she was 12 so she could study at Butch Harmon's golf school. So she knows about American culture and the legacy of Zaharias, the multisport icon who won the only three majors that were played in 1950. "I think to put my name next to hers means so much," Park said.

But women's golf is a much bigger, international game than it was 63 years ago, and sweeping the first three majors was nearly unthinkable until Park did it. Granted, the LPGA has decreed that there are five majors this season, but just winning the fourth in a row -- the Ricoh Women's British Open -- still would be a piece of history.

"It would be great if I could win five, but I still think four means a Grand Slam," she said with the smile that never leaves her face for long when she is on a golf course. While she was waiting to tee off on No. 1 Sunday, a loud voice from the crowd yelled, "Hey Inbee, give us a wave!" She smiled instead.

Park smiled again when she made a 10-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole, just after Kim missed a 12-footer, to take a five-shot lead. The champion admitted that she had thought Saturday night about the pressure that was building on her. Serenity returned when she got to Sebonack on Sunday, amid more tough conditions that prevented most players from breaking par (Park and Kim each shot 2 over).

"I feel happiest when I'm at the golf course. And I feel calm when I'm on the golf course. I think I'm just a much better person when I'm on the golf course," she said.

She became the 15th multiple U.S. Open winner (she won in 2008); she extended to 10 the string of majors won by players from Asia; she joined Zaharias, Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986) among three-time major champions in a year (the latter two did not win the first three).

The current dominant player has a slow, unorthodox backswing and an unhurried, deadly putting stroke. "Nothing fazes her. There is no pulse there. The pulse never gets above 50 or 60, I don't think," said Karrie Webb, a seven-time major champion.

Lizette Salas, one of the top American players who was in contention through the first two rounds, said in explaining Park's run: "I've played with her countless times and I'm still trying to figure that out. She's on a confidence high right now. The way she walks, I mean, she is just so confident right now. She just rolls with it."

Park never discussed the legacy aspect of Sunday's round, even with her Australian caddie Brad Beecher, until she had hit her approach on No. 18 safely on the green.

"I just said to her, 'Mate, you're just about to join history. Enjoy this walk,' " Beecher said a few minutes later during the awards ceremony. "She grinned at me. She knew what I meant."

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