There is a 20-something golfer dominating the game at a level few have reached before. This golfer has won multiple majors at a young age, and at such a rate that projecting future successes is a useless endeavor. This golfer might win ten. This golfer might win 20. But the golfer will win.
This golfer is set to join the pantheon of one-namers. This golfer has won tournaments despite being challenged by a wide range of world talent. With ready made rivals, this golfer may usher in the new era of the sport even as popularity dipped in the last decade.
She may just be a bigger force than Rory McIlroy. A year ago, Inbee Park won the first three majors of the year on the LPGA Tour to seriously threaten the grand slam. She finished T42 at the British Open to come up short.
Still, Park established herself as the most dominant player in the women’s game. She’s continued that run this year. On Sunday, she won the LPGA Championship, her fifth career major.
The 26-year-old has posted nine top tens, and two wins, including the LPGA, in 2014. While the numbers don’t match 2013 – and really how could she repeat that kind of season? – Park is winning at an unprecedented rate.
Consider that Annika Sorenstam, the modern (post 1970) leader with ten major championships, won her fifth major at the age of 33. Park is halfway to Annika and seven years ahead of her pace.
The comparisons to McIlroy, who has four at 25, are warranted. Both have risen above a collection of peers to take over their respective tours. McIlroy fought off the likes of Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, and Sergio Garcia to win his last two majors, the Open Championship and the PGA.
Park competes against a ridiculous list of young players that includes Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie, Lydia Ko, Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, and Anna Nordqvist. Both McIlroy and Park are one win away from completing the career grand slam. McIlroy needs a Green Jacket. Park needs a British Open.
It’s fair to ask, then, which player will end up with more major titles? And who will leave the greater legacy?
McIlroy has the unenviable task, or enviable if you think about, of following Tiger Woods. Tiger sent the game into a different stratosphere with his run of dominance in the 2000’s. Surely no one can reach those heights again. But if McIlroy comes even close to peak Tiger – you could argue he’s nearly there now – that will boost his legacy in itself.
Park, on the other hand, might be the latest woman to take over the female game. Annika gave way to Lorena Ochoa who gave way to a host of Park’s countrywomen. But the South Korean has separated herself from the pack with her 2013-14 run.
A season ago, Park became just the fourth woman ever to win three majors in a season. If she wins the British Open, she’ll become the third golfer to win the modern career grand slam (the Women’s British Open replaced the du Maurier as a major in 2001). Only Sorenstam and Karrie Webb have accomplished that feat.
McIlroy is a year younger than Park. Park has one more major to her name. So who will win more? Well, it’s tough to say. Sorenstam and Ochoa both retired from golf to start families.
Park could do the same, which would give McIlroy the advantage. Then again, Park’s pace is otherworldly right now. She could easily win ten majors by thirty.
Either way, young talents have taken over the PGA and LPGA Tours. They should be celebrated and watched extensively.