SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Inbee Park was 19 when she became the youngest player to win the U.S. Women's Open, not very experienced at golf or at life.
She had much to figure out after a victory that hinted at so much promise, and it took more than four years of sagging under pressure and tinkering with her swing before the South Korean earned another title.
The talented teenager from 2008 has blossomed into a dominant veteran, the favorite heading into this year's U.S. Women's Open, which starts today. Ranked No. 1, Park has won the first two majors of the year and her past two tournaments.
And she's at peace with her game and her world.
"The weeks that I've been having recently, I don't think I really need to think about golf outside the golf course," Park said. "I'm just very happy when I'm off the golf course."
At Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island, Park will seek to make history. When there have been at least four majors in a season, no player has won the first three.
Park has relied on her clutch putting to win five times this season and seven of her past 23 starts dating to last year. She suspects her strong short game was the one silver lining to her longtime struggles with pushing her tee shots to the right. She estimates she was missing nine or 10 greens per round, so she spent a lot of time trying to save par.
"I was just hitting it everywhere. I had to get it up and down from everywhere," Park said.
Her drives straightened out, Park has gone from saving pars to making birdies.
Some of her struggles were bad habits, but some of them were undoubtedly pressure. She remembers how she would spend much of Thursday and Friday worrying about whether she'd make the cut. If she hit a bad shot, she'd immediately start fretting about carding a bogey. After winning the 2008 U.S. Women's Open, she went more than four years before her next victory, at the Evian Masters last July.
"When you don't know how to handle the pressure, it's not a good feeling at all," she said. "Your heart's pumping; you think all the negative things."
Working with a mental coach, she has learned how to empty her head of those thoughts. Away from the course, it's easy to relax.
Park's fiance travels with her on the LPGA tour, and she has friendly rivalries with fellow players such as defending U.S. Women's Open champion Na Yeon Choi.
After Park won the LPGA Championship this month, the two South Koreans took time off at Choi's home in Orlando. They made kimchee soup and Korean barbeque, played tennis and went bowling.
"I think she's really comfortable with her life right now," Choi said. "I think she's very happy. She never thinks negatively. Everything is thinking positively."
WOODS UPBEAT: Tiger Woods can't say whether his left elbow will be healed in time for the British Open, only that it will be "good enough."
Woods returns to the PGA Tour's AT&T National, which begins today, as the defending champion only in name. Doctors have recommended he sit out this week and next because of a left elbow strain.
"I pushed it pretty good at the (U.S.) Open (two weeks ago) to play it and to play through it," Woods said. "Made it worse by hitting the ball out of the rough, and eventually got a point where I wasn't able to play here. We're treating it, and eventually I'll start the strengthening process, then starting hitting balls to get up to speed for the British," July 18-21.