The only time you’re wrong is when you underestimate her.
The word “done” has been applied to Inbee Park far too many times in the past five years, even by those who should know better. It started back in the summer of 2016 when Park showed up at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship needing only to make a start to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. The seven-time major champion played the first two rounds that week but looked like a broken shell of her former self. Injured and seemingly disinterested, Park announced an indefinite leave from competition to recover and regroup.
When she came back for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, even her fellow South Koreans thought she should step aside and give another countrywoman (in that case, her best friend So Yeon Ryu) a shot at a medal. The fact that Park won gold still belongs on a list of the greatest comebacks and most compelling stories in golf.
Now, she’s doing it again, although in not quite as dramatic a fashion. A little more than two years ago, Park’s prospects of defending her gold medal at the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo looked bleak. She wasn’t on the first page of the Rolex Rankings and looked for all the world like a player making a slow-roll victory lap through the final seasons of a career.
But then she said it out loud: “I really want to play in the Olympics.” And that, apparently, was all it took. She won the 2020 Australian Women’s Open, the last event played before the shutdown and finished second three other times.
Now, one week before the first major championship of the year, the ANA Inspiration where she has one win and five top-10 finishes in her career, Park picked apart the Aviara Golf Club and held off a hard-charging field to capture the Kia Classic by five shots ahead of Amy Olson and Lexi Thompson. It was Park’s 21st LPGA Tour win, moving her past Laura Davies and Cristie Kerr and into a tie with Marilynn Smith as the 25th-winningest player in LPGA Tour history.
But, despite being only 32 years old, Park’s spot on that all-time list is not what keeps her coming out.
“The Olympics is always a great motivation,” she said in Carlsbad, California. “If there wasn’t Olympics, I might not be here.”
But here she is, again, among the favorites going into the game’s first major of the year.