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A Walk in The Park

24 year old Korean star, Inbee Park, won her second Major Championship today by winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship in Rancho Mirage, California.

It was in all ways, a virtuoso performance and really never in doubt as Park led for most of the event, playing almost flawless golf. Park took the lead after the second round with a 5 under par 67 and followed that up with another 67 in Saturday’s second round which gave her a 3 shot lead heading into Sunday’s final round over Californian Lizette Salas.

Salas is a real “feel good” story. Her father, Ramon, a mechanic at the Azusa Greens Golf Course, introduced her to the game when she was 7 years old. Ramon recognized that his youngest daughter may have a knack for the game and asked Jerry Herrera, the head professional at Azusa Greens, if he would give Lizette some lessons. In exchange, Ramon offered to do favors such as fixing golf clubs and extra yard work. Salas went on to college at USC where she would become a four time All American (the only one ever in the rich golf history of USC). She would also become the first person in her family to earn a college degree. Salas would immediately qualify for the Tour after graduating and won over $400,000 in her Rookie year in 2012. Salas has been embraced by LPGA legend, Nancy Lopez, who has taken the enormously talented 23 year old under her wing. While Sunday was not her day as she finished with a 7 over par 79, great things most certainly lie ahead for her.

Park has a fairly unique swing, in which the club does not get to parallel at the top of her backswing and has very little wrist hinge. Normally, those two things would reduce a player’s power, but does not inhibit the formidable Park from creating a very consistent swing which lacks little for distance. Her greatest strength though, is her sublime putting stroke that many believe is the best in golf, either on the Men’s or Ladies Tours.

Park first burst onto the center stage when she won the US Women’s Open in 2008 in her second year on the LPGA Tour. The Kraft Nabisco is her 5th win on Tour and her fourth in the last 12 months. Park was the 2012 LPGA’s leading money winner in addition to winning the Vare Trophy (given to the player with the lowest stroke average for the year). Newly minted Rolex World #1 player, Stacy Lewis is feeling the footsteps of the unflappable Park who narrowed the gap between them noticeably with her victory. It is rare in this game that any win could seem “predictable”, but this became a procession in the early stages of Sunday’s round.

Another of the seemingly endless array of South Korean stars, 22 year old, So Yeon Ryu, shot a simmering final round 7 under 65, to finish alone in second place. Like Park, Ryu made the US Open her maiden victory on the Tour when she won golf’s oldest Major Championship in 2011.  Ryu followed that win up with a superb first full year on Tour in 2012 in which she was the ‘Rookie of the Year’ (she was not a Tour member in 2011 which allowed her to win that award in 2012).

But this Championship was really just a Walk In The Park. Park birdied her two opening holes to widen the margin of her lead to 6 and from that moment, it really became a question of ‘how many’ as opposed to ‘who’. Park shot a final round, 69 which gave her a tournament record total of 15 under par and a 3 shot victory over Ryu, but it really was never that close. This was as dominant a performance as you will see in a Major Championship, and further cements Park’s place in the rarified air of the game’s elite players.