U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Expect Park to be a Major Factor at Lancaster July 8, 2015 | Lancaster, Pa. By Stuart Hall

Inbee Park, in search of a third U.S. Women's Open title, is just a month removed from her sixth major championship win. (USGA/Hunter Martin)

Lydia Ko was no longer invested in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship’s outcome after her streak of 53 LPGA starts without a missed cut was snapped. Considering how precisely eventual champion Inbee Park was playing, Ko was unsure her presence would have been a factor, contending or not.

"She hits the ball pretty consistent every single time, but when her putter gets hot too she is kind of unstoppable,” said Ko, of New Zealand, who relinquished the world No. 1 ranking to Park that week. “She showed that at KPMG where she didn’t make a bogey for [56] holes. To do that at any tournament is very impressive, but to do it at a major is pretty awesome.”

In winning last month’s major in Harrison, N.Y., Park played with breathtaking efficiency over the final three rounds to not only win her sixth major – surpassing Se Ri Pak for most majors by a player from the Republic of Korea – but tie the record for lowest score in a women’s major in relation to par (19 under). Her winning margin was five strokes.

The 26-year-old Park also put this week’s U.S. Women’s Open field at Lancaster Country Club on watch as she attempts to win her sixth major of the last 13 contested. The only blip on the radar for Park is her first missed cut of the season two weeks ago at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

"I had a bad week, and that definitely made me practice harder and gave me a lot more motivation coming into this week,” said Park, who still shot a 1-under-par 141 over two days in Arkansas. "So hopefully that's going to work nicely playing this week."

More specifically, Park had a bad putting week, which "definitely gave me a wake-up call,” she said. That aspect of Park’s game has been a trending concern throughout this three-win 2015 season. 

Inbee's Thoughts on Lancaster C.C.

A change in putters prior to her victory in the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout in late April has helped, but still the numbers are slightly out of alignment. This season’s 29.32 putts per round average ranks 15th on Tour and is higher than any of Park’s yearly totals since 2011 (29.17).

In the past three years, Park has averaged 28.34 (2012), 29.05 (2013) and 29.08 (2014) putts per round, ranking among the tour’s top five each season.

The putting number is worth watching this week as Park seeks to win her third U.S. Women’s Open. When Park won in 2008 (28.75) and 2013 (28.50), she ranked second in the field in that category both times.

Lexi Thompson, 20, who has a pair of top-10 finishes in the year’s first two majors, believes Park’s game is about much more than putting statistics. 

“It's incredible to watch her game,” said Thompson, a major winner in her own right. "She's an amazing ball striker, but she chips and rolls it incredible. I think that's why she's performed so well, and especially in major championships. She hits it straight. She's just good all around."

Of Park’s 15 career victories, six have been of the major variety. Her first win was the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn.

“I think as a golfer you want to do good in major championships, and obviously that's the tournament that you put 100 percent of your energy and strategy,” Park said. "When I come to major championships, I work extra hard and I try to look at the course a little bit better. I like the little bit extra pressure when we start the game.

"And obviously having good results helps. That gives me a lot of confidence going into other major championships, thinking that I've done good in major championships so I can do well in another one."

In winning the first three legs of the Grand Slam two years ago – capped by her U.S. Women’s Open win at Sebonack – Park gained a valuable personal perspective that only adds to her competitive arsenal.

"I learned a lot of things,” she said. "The first is I can do some things that I didn't think I could even do. And probably the second thing is playing under the pressure, not everybody gets the chance to go for four in a row in a major championship, and I've done that before.

"When I have really pressure conditions, like in the final round going head-to-head or when I have a lead, I just feel a lot more comfortable now after having to deal with a lot of pressure conditions. I think it's all experience."

An experience that major fields have seen from Park all too often the past few years.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.

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