Inbee Park Eyes History At The Home Of Golf
It is only fitting that Inbee Park will pursue a Grand Slam at St. Andrews, the home of golf, in the same year the men will play the Open Championship at Muirfield.
After all, in the all-too-rare instances in which the possibility of such a feat even occurred or was possible, those two places in Scotland played a role.
In the last 53 years, only three men have had an opportunity to win a Grand Slam, with Arnold Palmer seeing his run ended at St. Andrews in 1960, and Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods having it come to an end at Muirfield in 1972 and 2002, respectively. (It of course should be noted that Woods captured four in a row, the so-called Tiger Slam, in 2000-01.)
Then there is Bobby Jones, whose Slam consisted of the U.S. Opens and Amateurs; he won the British Amateur at St. Andrews in 1930 on his way to becoming the only player to win all four tournaments in the same year.
Park will head to St. Andrews and the Old Course later this month with a chance to add another major title to her 2013 résumé after wins at the Kraft Nabisco, LPGA Championship and U.S. Women's Open.
Only Babe Zaharias -- in the LPGA's first year, 1950 -- won the first three majors, and there were only three at the time. Annika Sorenstam was the last LPGA player to capture the first two, in 2005, and then tied for 23rd at the U.S. Women's Open.
The Old Course would seem the perfect place for the pursuit of such history. So much of it has occurred there already. And so rarely has even a glimmer of hope existed in terms of the Grand Slam.
The LPGA's muddled history of major championships makes putting it into context all the more difficult. Over the years, the tournaments deemed majors have changed. And it gets worse this year as the Evian Championship in France has been added as a fifth major.
That appears an unfortunate decision now, one borne out of economics. To retain a valued sponsor and a big purse, the LPGA decreed a tournament with a modicum of history would suddenly be ordained a major -- not replacing a tournament but adding it to the existing roster. A shame, really, because majors typically take time to evolve.
So does Park get credit for a Grand Slam if she wins the Women's British Open but not the Evian? There will surely be debate about that, just as there has been conjecture over the evolution of the Grand Slam. (It is interesting to note that Park won the Evian last year, when it was not considered a major.)
According to Sidney Matthew, a golf historian, Jones and his biographer, O.B. Keeler, were prolific bridge players and the Grand Slam term emanated from the card game. In bridge, it is sweeping all 13 tricks. In golf, four majors. Or in the case of the LPGA, all five?
Matthew said the term "Grand Slam'' was never used in print in reference to Jones' feat until after he won the U.S. Amateur at Merion in 1930.
And then the notion of a Grand Slam kind of faded away as Jones retired from competitive golf. When Ben Hogan won the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship in 1953, he could not compete in the PGA Championship because the event, then a match play tournament, overlapped with the Open. In fact, it was unlikely that any such notion of a Grand Slam existed in Hogan's mind at the time.
It wasn't until Palmer won the Masters and the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in 1960 that the term came to life again. Palmer wondered aloud on his way to the Open at St. Andrews -- the first time he would play the tournament -- if capturing it and the PGA Championship could constitute a modern Grand Slam.
The media picked up on the notion, and it was born. Palmer finished second by a stroke to Australian Kel Nagle, his timing a bit off as he would win the Open Championship each of the next two years.
Nicklaus was the next player with a chance, having won the Masters and U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 1972, then was denied by Lee Trevino at Muirfield, falling by a single stroke.
It would be another 30 years before someone would win the first two majors. Woods won the Masters and the U.S. Open at Bethpage in 2002, then went to Muirfield and was just two strokes out of the lead through 36 holes before a blustery storm sent him to his highest round as a pro, a third-round 81.
Nobody has won the first two men's majors since.
Only Sorenstam did it among women, in 2005, with Park the first since Woods to win three majors in the same year since Woods did it in 2000.
Park joined Zaharias, Mickey Wright and Pat Bradley as the only women to win three majors in the same year. Only Hogan and Woods have done it on the men's side.
Whether five majors constitutes a Grand Slam or not, what Park has done already is impressive. Making history at the home of golf would be even more so.
The commitment game
Justin Rose cited fatigue and other factors for having to pull out of last week's AT&T National, a tournament he won in 2010. The lead-up to the U.S. Open, winning a major championship, the aftermath which included playing in the Travelers Championship ... all of it was too much to play a third straight week.
So Rose withdrew, and even offered up an apology -- something that would be unnecessary if the terminology associated with entering tournaments would be used differently.
Rose's "commitment" to the AT&T -- or that of any player -- was not binding. It's not a commitment at all. It is procedural. A player is required to "commit" in order to play. In fact, he must do so by the previous Friday at 5 p.m. If he doesn't "commit," he can't play, even if he was not previously qualified for the tournament.
Players commit and withdraw from tournaments all the time, but it becomes a bigger deal with the name players and it shouldn't. Five years ago, having one of the best years of his career, Kenny Perry passed on playing the Open Championship because he had "committed" to the Greater Milwaukee Open, which was played the same week. Truth is, Perry just didn't want to go to England, so the "commitment" excuse was a bit lame.
Such commitments are part of the process if you are going to enter a tournament and many players simply commit to everything they think they are going to play, then withdraw later.
It is why you see Tiger Woods wait to "commit" to tournaments. He shouldn't have to suffer any consequences if he commits early and then withdraws for any reason, but he waits to spare himself any grief -- as he suffered way back in 1996 soon after turning pro when he pulled out of a tournament at the last minute due to illness.
Tournament officials, of course, want to capitalize on player "commitments." It is how they hype their events, how they sell tickets. But in the end, a player has a right to change his mind, and shouldn't be criticized for doing so.
1. Inbee Park. It's been a terrific year for Park, who has captured the year's first three majors after her win at the U.S. Women's Open, and now seeks more history next month at St. Andrews.
2. Paul Casey. The Englishman had risen to No. 3 in the world in 2009 and was still in the top 20 just two years ago before a snowboarding accident led to a shoulder injury that saw him drop out of the top 200. His victory at the Irish Open was his first since early 2011.
3. Bill Haas. He's had some struggles this year, but his win Sunday at the AT&T National gives him five on the PGA Tour, pulling him within four of dad Jay's total.
1. Rory McIlroy. You have to appreciate the honesty of McIlroy, who said he was "lost'' on his way to a missed cut at the Irish Open.
2. Graeme McDowell. Another Irishman who missed the cut at the Irish Open, GMac looked so promising going into the U.S. Open and now has missed consecutive cuts.
3. PGA Tour. The tour smartly went along with the anchoring ban, but seemed a bit smug in offering up a veiled threat that it might not always go along with USGA rules in the future, insinuating it wanted more of a say in the process. Seems a bit disingenuous, as the PGA Tour knew exactly what was going on all along with the anchoring debate.
Open Championship watch
One of the charms of the Open Championship was greatly diminished a few years ago when Local Final Qualifying was moved to two weeks prior to the championship. For years, it was played on the weekend prior, at links venues near the Open site. This year's sites were classic links layouts: North Berwick, Gullane No. 1, Dunbar and The Mussleburgh. Each offered three qualifying places. Former European Ryder Cup captains Mark James and Colin Montgomerie were the most notable players in the field, which has largely been devoid of big names since the institution of International Final Qualiying in America and Europe.
But now even this tradition will be diminished. Starting next year, the R&A has elected to go to four "permanent'' qualifying sites, regardless of the venue. The championship will be played at Royal Liverpool in 2014, so the four local qualifying sites would normally be in the area.
Going forward, there will be three sites in England: Hillside in Southport, which is less than an hour from Royal Liverpool; Royal Cinque Ports, a great course in Kent but only close to Royal St. George's; and Woborn in Bedfordshire. The only Scottish venue is Glasgow Gailes.
As for this year, there are only a few avenues left to gain entry. The winner of next week's John Deere Classic and Scottish Open will get a spot in the field if they are not already exempt. Through this weekend's Greenbrier Classic and French Open, the leading five players in the top 20 of the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai standings will also gain a spot.
With his win at the AT&T National, Bill Haas joined Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose as the only players to have at least one victory in each of the past four years. ... Haas has seven top-10s this year, equaling the most on the PGA Tour this year. ... Jordan Spieth's tie for sixth got him a spot in this week's Greenbrier Classic. He is a special temporary member of the PGA Tour but appears to have won enough money to earn his full card for next year. As a temporary member, Spieth will not be eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs unless he wins a tournament. ... Stewart Cink's tie for fifth was his best since a tie for fifth at the 2010 WGC-Accenture Match Play. ... Phil Mickleson returns to action this week at the Greenbrier Classic for the first time since his runner-up finish at the U.S. Open. Mickelson is also scheduled to play next week's Scottish Open at Castle Stuart followed by the Open Championship. ... Defending Open Championship winner Ernie Els has added the Scottish Open to his schedule as well.
"Watching Justin (Rose) win the U.S. Open really lit the fire. It got me so excited and made me think, 'I want to do that.'"
-- England's Paul Casey, referring to countryman Rose's victory, after winning the Irish Open on Sunday.