The East End came to the U.S. Women's Open Friday, rather than the other way around. Unique indigenous weather, which locals in Southampton take as a matter of course, prompted Inbee Park to say, "Kind of like four different seasons in one day."
This was not a problem for Park, winner of the first two women's majors this year, because she is a force of nature in her own right. On a day that began cloudy, turned hazy, hot and humid, became cool and breezy and ended with fog that suspended the second round, the 24-year-old Korean star proved herself a golfer for all seasons.
She shot 4-under-par 68 at Sebonack Golf Club, which generally played tougher than it had Thursday. That did not matter for Park, who is halfway through the championship at 9 under, two shots clear of countrywoman I.K. Kim. The way Park is playing, two shots with two rounds to go can look like a very commanding lead.
Forty-one golfers will go back on the course at 7 Saturday morning to finish the second round that was cut short on a vintage South Fork day. It was in contrast to Round One, which was tranquil with benevolent course conditions. "This is kind of how the golf course should be played. Windy and gritty and all that kind of stuff," said former Open champion Paula Creamer, who is 1 over. "You feel like you're shooting 100 over."
But while the field had to contend with a slight change in setup (faster greens) and variations in weather, the greatest challenge is overcoming the intimidation factor that has risen around the friendly, methodical, unflappable Park.
"I think everyone would enjoy that kind of feeling, where you're playing very good golf and everybody wants to play as good as you," she said. "Yeah, I think I've been into positions where I was looking at Annika [Sorenstam] or Lorena [Ochoa] or Yani [Tsieng] playing so good, and trying to play like them and trying to improve myself, trying to push myself. I think that's a good inspiration for everyone."
She was unflustered after having missed three birdie putts in the eight- to 10-foot range, which lately have been automatic for her. Then she rolled in a 30-footer from off the green on the par-5 13th. "I think it was just giving it back to me for missing three," she said with a quick laugh, noting she had done the same on the par-4 sixth. "I mean, everything that was close was not going in and everything that was farther away from the hole was going in today. It was weird."
Opponents had another word for it. Stacy Lewis, the American ranked behind Park as No. 2 in the world, said: "It's frustrating because she is not exactly knocking the flags down. She is making putts off the edge of the green, ones that you wouldn't expect her to make."
At the moment, her closest competitor, Kim, is someone best known for having missed a one-foot putt that cost her a major, the 2012 Kraft Nabisco. "She had her tough time two years ago at the Nabisco, but I think she handled herself very good in a very positive way. She came back very strong and she's a very consistent player," Park said, acknowledging a loss to Kim in the 2005 U.S. Girls Junior Amateur.
Friday was an occasion to say goodbye for Annie Park of Levittown, whose family was planning a last Korean meal at their rented Southampton apartment before going home. The 18-year-old Long Islander was the crowd favorite -- even her sister Bo was asked for her autograph -- despite the certainty of missing the cut at 10 over.
"I just want to thank all of Long Island for the support," Annie Park said before handing the stage back to the field.