No bling, no drama - plain Park is simply great

No bling, no drama - plain Park is simply great

Have you got an inspirational tattoo on your wrist, are you a prodigy, do you own a hard-luck tale, will you style your hair inventively, are you model beautiful, or at least emotionally combustible?

In the modern business which is professional sport, where athletes are not just human beings but brands, where you don't just win but position yourself in the marketplace, it's not enough to play. You need an angle, you need to have a story.

Do you stand out?

Park In Bee, by those measures, doesn't qualify. No tattoo. No fancy earrings. Actually no earrings at all yesterday. No fist pumps, no dazzling outfit, no sulk of disappointment, no McIlroy club-hurling, no significant Twitter following (at last count only 5,465).

No, Park In Bee is just plain. Plain great that is.

Of course, we are pulled by characters (Usain Bolt) in sport and suckers for rampant egos (Zlatan Ibrahimovic). We're not allergic to controversy (Floyd Mayweather) and relish talent with a colourful flourish (Ronaldo). But sport has to have space for every sort of champion. For the quiet and persuasive, for the dutiful and unembellished, for men like Tim Duncan and women like Park In Bee. For great in all its forms.

Great, after all, is missing only six of 72 greens in four days and none yesterday. It's hitting longer yesterday - an average of 256.5 yards - than any other day. It's travelling 72 holes without a bogey on a demonic course and, just to give it context, Stacy Lewis had six and Lydia Ko had six and a double.

"I am impressed," said Park's caddie, Brad Beecher. "It was amazing," said Nam Gi Hyeon, her husband, who also coaches her.

Great is hitting so straight when once, Park says, "I couldn't hit the ball straight". In 2008, at 19, the first LPGA Tour event she won was a Major, the US Open, and then life and game fell apart. For the shy the spotlight can burn; for the unready the garlands which come with the tag 'next big thing' can feel like a noose. Yesterday, dutifully signing hats and posing for pictures, Park said: "I may have expected too much from myself then, but I was not ready."

From eighth in the money list in 2008, she fell to 50th in 2009, and for three years victory on the LPGA Tour eluded her. "They were tough times, it was tough to come back, I lost so much confidence." But great is remaking a swing with her husband, it is persisting even when she wanted to quit "so many times", it is coming back with two wins in 2012, six in 2013, three in 2014, four of them Majors.

Great yesterday for Park was staying cool on a 34 deg C day and staying calm in tough company. She watched Ko equal her score early in the round and did not bat an unpainted eyelash. Evenness of emotion is vital in a sport of which Raymond Floyd famously said: "They call it golf because all of the other four-letter words were taken." And yesterday Park resembled a yogi with a club, never elated, never despairing, and even if she says this comes "naturally" she accepted it is a "great gift".

The final round was much like Park herself, undramatic and efficient. The ending was how she likes it, her fanfare limited to a raised arm. When she was doused by fellow Korean players with champagne, she gently flicked away the drops much as she did with the opposition all afternoon.

On three sides of the 18th green, which resembled a manicured amphitheatre, the crowd - a record 14,077 attended yesterday - leaned in from the stands and sat forward on the grass. They want drama, they relish characters, yet now they roared for an understated, even under-rated, un-tattooed, undemonstrative champion. Because everyone could see she is plainly great.


This article was first published on March 9, 2015.
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