SEOUL (Reuters) - Few golfers would describe Park In-bee’s languid, truncated swing as “textbook”, but after winning her sixth career major at the Women’s PGA Championship on Sunday, the South Korean is no doubt content to have played her way into the record books.
While New Zealand teen Lydia Ko’s stunning rise from amateur to world number one hogged the global golfing headlines over the last year, Park has quietly cemented her place as one of the game’s all-time greats.
At 26, the Korean has now won five of the last 12 majors, her five-stroke victory on Sunday snatching back top spot in the rankings from Ko and taking her career earnings on the LPGA Tour to more than $11 million.
Her performance at the Westchester Country Club in the Women’s PGA Championship, a tournament she has now won three times in a row, was vintage Park.
Without a bogey in her final 56 holes, she simply shunted the ball off the tee without ever breaking her metronomic tempo, stuck green after green from the fairway, and putted lights-out from near and far.
Her 19-under total tied the Tour record for the lowest score in relation to par at a major and she joined Annika Sorenstam and Patty Berg as the only players to have won the same major three times in a row.
While Park’s swing lacks the graceful fluidity of compatriot Kim Hyo-joo, and she exhibits none of the punch of the powerful Pak Se-ri, experts at home pinpoint her stellar short game and bulletproof mental strength as the keys to her success.
“In-bee isn’t flexible,” says Jay Hahn, a golf specialist who worked with Park before she went to the famed David Leadbetter Academy.
”Her wrists aren’t flexible so there’s a limitation on her cocking. She also has limited trunk rotation ... but she uses her swing to overcome her physical limitations.
“She isn’t the longest hitter, but she answers that by being one of the best putters. The short game takes over the long game when you reach the top level,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Long hitter she is not.
At just under 250 yards off the tee, Park is currently 84th on the LPGA Tour in terms of average driving distance, well behind the likes of fellow major winners Brittany Lincicome (271) and Yani Tseng (270).
But that old golf adage, “Drive for show, putt for dough” has never been more apt when it comes to Park.
Her game is based on accuracy and feel, and she has the statistics to prove it.
Fifth in greens in regulation (GIR).
Second in putts per GIR.
Eleventh in average putts per round.
And the all-important scoring average? Number one.
For Suh Kyung-hyun, a psychology professor at Seoul’s Sahmyook University, the key to Park’s success lies not in the accuracy of her irons or her dead-eye aim on the greens.
Her true advantage is the ice in her veins.
Notoriously stoic on the course, the impassive Park has been dubbed the ‘Silent Assassin’ and ‘Buddha Sculpture’ for her uncanny ability to keep her emotions in check.
“I don’t think it’s even that important to talk about the technical side of her game because it’s the way her mental strength prevents her from ever losing her poise which is the real key to her success,” Suh told Reuters by telephone.
Suh, who has authored a book on the psychology of golf, added that a big part of Park’s on-course coolness came through metacognition, an awareness of one’s own thought process.
“She has a nice smile and has good interpersonal skills, but when she’s on the course she is always calm, even when something goes wrong,” he added.
Things rarely seem to be going wrong for Park these days.
Though even if they were you probably wouldn’t know it.
Additional reporting by Oh Seung-yun, Editing by Sudipto Ganguly