Defending champ has regained her stroke

Jun. 18, 2014 @ 08:05 PM

Inbee Park has taken the biggest strength of her game - her putting - back to how it was when she won last year's U.S. Women's Open.

It paid off two weeks ago as she got her first LPGA Tour win since the Open crown in Southampton, N.Y. as she fired a final-round 61 to win the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic. The victory ended, by a very high standard anyway, a bit of a slump for Park.

The drought included seven top 10 finishes in her first 10 LPGA events of the season. Stacy Lewis took over the No. 1 spot in the world even as Park's 2013 included being the first player in modern women's golf to win the first three major championships of a season: the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the Wegman's LPGA Championship along with her second U.S. Open championship.

"My standards are high and my fans' standards are high," Park said Wednesday following a practice round at Pinehurst No. 2.

"Everybody else around me, the standards are so high, that it's really hard to accomplish," she said. "And this year, even if I was having top-10s every week, I wasn't satisfied."

Park says she's back to being happier and more relaxed on the course. She wants to regain her spot as best in the world, but this time with lessons she's learned in the last year.

"Yeah, I think being (in the) No. 1 spot is definitely extra pressure than everyone else," she said, going on to say she found herself checking the rankings and how other players were doing while No. 1, things she never did before.

Park feels her ball striking improved through the winless stretch. Her putting left her, but she believes she's found it.

A 61 and a victory should naturally be big boosts. Help from dad is good, too.

Park said she uses YouTube highlights of herself to check her old putting stroke. The most specific and beneficial resource though is: "my dad has the tape of the U.S. Open last year."

"So it's easier to get it off him, because like he has the highlights and he has everything. My dad has all my videos," Park said.

Park knows when she's been in the zone, and when the zone's left her, with her putting stroke.

"When you're putting well, you're going to miss the putt when you misread the putt. That's the only time you're going to miss the putt. Otherwise, you are pretty dead on," she said. "But you just feel confident, even if you're far away from the hole, you feel like you can make a birdie."

Park got to Pinehurst early. She scouted, warmed up a little and was a fan on Sunday as Martin Kaymer closed out his victory.

"Yeah, it's really unique, we never got to do something like that before. I've never really seen the men play in person that close before, so I think it was a really cool experience," Park said.

At the same time, finding a spot to get some practice in was tough.

"It was weird, like, should I putt here or not? I feel like I don't belong here. It was a little bit of confusion," she said.

Park feels renewed confidence on the greens fits well with having a solid shot to win this weekend. Getting up and down from around the greens and rolling in stroke-saving putts could be the way she wins her third Open - which would wind up setting a more elite standard.