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Whatever You Call Them, Inbee Park's Achievements Are Impressive

The day after one of golf's best had one of her best days, this is what I am thinking: The achievement shouldn't get lost amid the semantics.

Inbee Park won the Ricoh Women's British Open at Turnberry on Sunday with a wonderful final-round charge that allowed her to overtake fellow South Korean Jin-Young Ko. It was Park's seventh major championship victory -- and the sixth in her past 14 major starts -- in a still-young career that already is one of the best in women's golf.

Yet, in the wake of Park's latest impressive victory, there has been plenty of debate about her win in Scotland. The conversation is not about the quality of her play -- about which there can be no quibble -- but the meaning of the 27-year-old's victory in the scope of history.

Did Park complete a career Grand Slam, as the LPGA and the winner herself insist she did? Or, as Golf Channel, The Associated Press and others believe, does she still need to win something else -- the Evian Championship -- given the awkward five-instead-of-four majors landscape that the LPGA cultivated when it upgraded the status of the big-money event in France two years ago?

This much is beyond debate: Park became only the seventh woman to win four different majors, joining Louise Suggs, Mickey Wright, Pat Bradley, Juli Inkster, Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam. Park has gotten to seven major professional victories faster than everyone other than Wright and Tiger Woods. (Bobby Jones also beat Park to the milestone with a combination of national Amateur and Open victories in the 1920s, when those were the pinnacle of the sport.)

Weighing major championships since the start of 2013, Park has been the best golfer in the world, man or woman, with three times as many major titles as the only other multiple major winners in this period: Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. But the casual golf fan, particularly in the United States, might not even be aware of how great Park's run has been. As much as the LPGA has rebounded in the past few years, women's golf rarely commands much widespread mainstream attention in the United States. A few players move the needle outside the niche of devoted followers, but Park isn't one of them. Excellence ought to be enough, but sadly it isn't.

During Park's amazing stretch of golf, the women's game also has seen one of its few buzz-creating players, Michelle Wie, finally win a major championship (2014 U.S. Women's Open) and has witnessed the arrival of prodigy Lydia Ko, who won a stunning six LPGA tournaments before her 18th birthday. Young Floridian Lexi Thompson also broke through at a major and has continued to play well and win. To those who don't embrace the international nature of women's golf -- particularly the dominant position of Korean-born players, who have won 14 of 20 LPGA events in 2015 and hold 10 of the top 20 spots in the latest Rolex Rankings -- Park's ascent to greatness hasn't had much traction.

Park also has had the misfortune of playing at a time when the LPGA added a major to its schedule. And inconveniently for Park, the first year the Evian was viewed as a major by the LPGA, 2013, was also the year Park won the season's first three majors and came to St. Andrews going for four straight. Park didn't win the Women's British, but the conversation about whether it would have been a single-season Grand Slam clouded her pursuit.

Moreover, one of the majors Park has won multiple times, the LPGA Championship, morphed into the KPMG Women's PGA Championship this year. The title didn't seem to matter to Park, who won the renamed event this year for three straight victories in the LPGA/Women's PGA.

The major picture has never been clear-cut for the LPGA, which has had from two to five majors in its 65 years. This reality makes a "Grand Slam" -- adapted from bridge to golf to describe Jones' historic 1930 sweep of the Amateur and Open titles of the U.S. and Great Britain -- less than neat, whether of the calendar or career variety. In the heydays of such fine golfers as JoAnne Carner, Carol Mann and Judy Rankin, for instance -- 1968-71 and 1973-78 -- there were only two majors contested each season. If the number four is the essential ingredient in a Grand Slam, as the LPGA put forth in a statement validating Park's win at Turnberry as the completion of a career Slam, those players were as victimized by too few majors as Park might be by one too many.

"The LPGA did not add a fifth major championship to change history, alter discussion or make the accomplishment of a 'grand slam' more difficult," the LPGA said in a news release. "We added a fifth major to create an incremental opportunity for the women's game."

Agree or not with that corporate-speak justifying the Evian as a major, but with Park almost halfway to Patty Berg's record 15 major victories, some historical context is necessary. The Titleholders, which Berg won seven times, certainly grew into a women's equivalent of the Masters and was designated a major upon the formation of the LPGA in 1950, but her victory at the inaugural in 1937 came with a field of only 16.

But Berg also won the 1938 Women's Western Amateur, an event that, at the time when amateur golf was still the zenith of women's golf, had just as much prestige. Suggs is credited with 11 major titles, but her U.S. and British Amateur wins and two Women's Western victories -- each captured before the LPGA began -- would pull her even with Berg.

The conjecture can be endless. The start of the Masters in 1934 provided a tidy addition to the men's game as it transitioned into an era in which professional competitions became common and more important. Many believe Walter Hagen and others who competed before the advent of the Masters should get major credit for their triumphs in the Western Open, Metropolitan Open, and North and South Open, tournaments that, before World War II, were as highly regarded as the Masters came to be. If an event is perceived as a "major" at a certain time, it seems that gives it more credence than a designation at a later time. It will also be a gray zone, though.

If Park can win the upcoming Evian Championship, it would give her what the LPGA terms a career Super Slam. She won the event in 2012, causing her to say Sunday evening, "I won that the year before it became a major, but I'm still an Evian Championship champion, and my name is still on that trophy. I feel like I've won all the majors in women's golf."

Bradley did that in her career and looked on admiringly as Park won her fourth different major, Park's closing 65 reminding Bradley of her own final-round 66 to win the 1981 U.S. Women's Open.

"It seems like every generation has this one player who stands out," Bradley said. "Inbee is impressive. She has such a calm confidence. The key to it all seems to be how she embraces the moment, embraces the pressure. That's why she's going to get to 10, 12 majors and maybe reach Patty's 15. The way she plays, 15 is not out of the question."

To be one of the best of all time, all a golfer can do is be the best of her time on whatever the biggest stages might be. Park, like Bradley and other stars who came before, is doing that. The rest is fine print.