Inbee Park's closest friends and fiercest rivals, who happen to be the same people, do not see a burning fire in the eye of the golfer who is within close range of history at Sebonack Golf Club this week. Park is not in overdrive. More than anything, they say, she is just happy.
"She travels with her fiancé and I think she's really comfortable with her life right now," said Na Yeon Choi, the defending champion of the U.S. Women's Open who is more or less an afterthought because Park has outshone everyone in women's golf, having won the first two majors this season and having won four tournaments, including the past two.
Choi invited her South Korean countrywoman to her Orlando area home during a week off recently and fed her kimchi soup and Korean barbecue. Choi even beat her at tennis and never saw the slightest crack in the persona that is dominating women's golf. "She never thinks negatively. Everything is thinking positively," Choi said.
Park admits she feels pressure, preparing for the first round of the Open in Southampton Thursday with a chance to be the first woman to win the year's first three majors since Babe Zaharias in 1950. "But," she added, "this is somewhere that I've always wanted to come. Yeah, I'm trying to enjoy where I am and trying to keep this going as long as I can."
Her game is in top condition, under the guidance of her swing coach and fiancé, who happen to be the same person, Gihyeob Nam. Perhaps her greatest strength, one that will be particularly helpful on Sebonack's rolling greens, is her putting. She said that grew out of necessity, from having missed so many greens in past U.S. Opens. "Trying to get up-and-downs from everywhere gave me a lot of focus," she said after her practice round Tuesday.
As mellow as she appears to the Korean pros with whom she socializes (and beats), Park's success is built on the sort of iron will a person develops when they are dumped into deep water. The 24-year-old moved with her family to Las Vegas when she was 12 so that she could study with famed coach Butch Harmon. Her mother was determined to have her immersed in American culture so she could swim with any shark.
"My mom wouldn't let me go back to Korea for two or three years because she wanted us to speak English all the time," Park said. "We love watching Korean TV shows, but she stopped us."
Instead Park and her sister watched American movies (she loved "The Notebook") and listened to American music.
"It helped me a lot," she said.
It helped her win the 2008 U.S. Women's at 19, and set the foundation for this year.
A sports bromide says that one dominant performer is good for attracting interest. Maybe, maybe not. "It's frustrating for the rest of us, that's for sure," said the top American, Stacy Lewis, who briefly was No. 1 in the world earlier this year. "I know people like to see somebody make history and do all of that, but for players, it's frustrating to see someone sit there and win week after week after week. But she's making good putts and she's steady."
Steady, and happy. Choi, one of Park's dearest friends, said, "Sometimes I'm very jealous of Inbee because she has a very happy life. I think I have a happy life, too. I don't know, maybe first of all I have to look for some fiancé, then maybe I can have good results, too."