SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — More than two dozen players who starred on the LPGA Tour have been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame since Babe Zaharias led the tour’s inaugural class.
None of them were able to do what Inbee Park has just done. Not Mickey Wright or Kathy Whitworth, not Nancy Lopez or Joanne Carner, not Pat Bradley or Annika Sorenstam or Karrie Webb or Se Ri Pak.
Nobody had ever won the first three major championships in an LPGA Tour season, except Zaharias, whose 1950 accomplishment was unique because there were only three majors at the time.
Move over, Babe. You’ve finally got some company.
Park, the world’s top-ranked player, continued her dominance and secured her place in golf history Sunday by taking the 68th US Women’s Open, shooting a 2-over-par 74 at Sebonack Golf Club to finish 72 holes at 8 under and win by four shots, over I.K. Kim (74).
The victory, added to wins at the Kraft Nabisco and LPGA Championship, makes Park 3 for 3 in 2013 majors. It’s her sixth win this season, fourth major of her career, and second US Women’s Open victory, coupled with 2008, when Park won that by four shots, too.
“I just hope this is not a dream,” Park said. “I wouldn’t want to wake up tomorrow and have to play the final round again.”
No dream. But after easily dispatching the rest of the field in annually the toughest test women’s golf has to offer, a new dream continues to take shape, and looks more and more like it might become reality. Park can win her fourth consecutive major at the Women’s British Open next month in Scotland; only Wright (last two majors of 1961, first two in 1962) has ever won four straight.
“I’ve just done three majors in a row now. I think it’s too early to think about the next one,” Park said. “The Grand Slam is very big. I probably wouldn’t get this kind of opportunity ever again. I know this year is a good opportunity for me.”
Don’t bet against her, said Bradley, the Westford native and Hyannis resident whose own quest for winning the first three majors in a season ended at the 1986 US Women’s Open. Bradley won that year’s final major, giving her three for the season and had been the last person to do that until now.
Bradley is expecting Park to win the British.
“I do expect it,” Bradley said, when reached by phone on Sunday. “I think she’s the next dominant star on the LPGA Tour, which has almost always been part of our game.
“Boy, oh boy, what an incredible display of someone being calm, cool, and collected. You name it, and this young lady showed it all week long. When you win three [majors] in a row . . . I had the opportunity. It did not happen for me, but when you get them in succession, that is really taking it to another level. I am so impressed.”
If Park would be caught in the final round, it would take two things: Someone to make a run — likely Kim — and Park to have an uncharacteristically poor round.
Kim cut the deficit to three shots by making a birdie on No. 2, and had another birdie putt at the fourth to climb within two. But she three-putted from the front fringe, blowing her first attempt well past the hole and nearly off the green. The margin was again four, and would never be closer.
After a third-round 71, Park said her Sunday plan was simple: Make as many pars as possible. She knew, with only one person within conceivable striking distance through 54 holes, that a comeback would be made much, much tougher if she could string pars together. As difficult as Sebonack was playing — at least to the rest of the field — a final-round score of 64 or 65 wasn’t likely.
Park opened with five straight pars, but made bogeys at Nos. 6-7, opening the door a bit. Those dropped shots didn’t hurt her, though, because Kim also made bogey on those holes, keeping Park’s advantage at four.
Back-to-back birdies by Park at the ninth and 10th seemed to slam the door. It stretched the lead to six, and allowed her to take a breezy walk up the 18th fairway, even after two back-nine bogeys. She narrowly missed her birdie putt, tapped in for par, and began the celebration.
Park was sprayed with champagne on the 18th green, and minutes later was seen posing with the trophy, flanked by both parents, who gave their 24-year-old daughter matching kisses on the cheek.
It was her determination, Park said, that let her focus on the job she set out to do on Sunday. Only after did she acknowledge how hard that really was.
“I’m trying to write history, I’m trying to break some kind of record that hasn’t been broken in over 50 years,” Park said. “If you think about all of those things on the golf course, you can’t concentrate on golf.”
But she did, so now it’s on to St. Andrews and the Old Course, which will host the Women’s British Open Aug. 1-4. The LPGA Tour has five majors on its schedule; the Evian Championship, in September and elevated to major status this season, is the fifth.
“It would mean so much if I could do the Grand Slam,” Park said. “I’m just glad that I can give it a try at St. Andrews. That’s going to be a great experience, whether I win it or not.”