|PGA StaffSAMMAMISH, Wa. — Can Inbee Park’s pursuit of a record fourth straight KPMG Women’s PGA Championship really be a secondary storyline this week?It can, because with the completion of her opening round on Thursday – Park tees off at 1:30 p.m. PT and will be playing with Paula Creamer and Ariya Jutanugarn – she will officially qualify as the 24th member of the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame.
Park actually earned the required number of points (27) to qualify for the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame at the CME Group Tour Championship on November 19, 2015, when she was awarded the Vare Trophy for having the lowest scoring average (69.41) for the 2015 campaign.
With the LPGA’s Tour’s Hall of Fame point requirement met, all that was left for the South Korean was to be an “active” LPGA Tour member for 10 years. That threshold is now only 18 holes away and is scheduled to be met late Thursday afternoon. Upon holing out on 18, Park will become the LPGA’s first new Hall-of-Famer since 2007, when fellow South Korean Se Ri Pak was inducted.
The 27-year-old Park is slated to be the youngest Hall-of-Famer upon induction by the LPGA. Pak holds the mark for one more night, as she was 29 upon entering nine years ago. Park owns 17 professional victories, including seven major championships (3 KPMG Women’s PGA Championships, 2 U.S. Women’s Opens, one ANA Inspiration, one RICOH Women’s British Open.
Park is not about to let a left thumb injury spoil her big week at Sahalee. Suffering from inflammation in the tendon and a ligament, Park has turned in just two 18-hole rounds since May 19.
“It’s just hard because it’s not a big pain, like a back pain or like knee pain or something that’s you can’t walk or you can’t stand up,” said Park. “It’s just a little part of your body, but it’s just bothering enough to affect the swing.”
What does the future hold past this KPMG Women’s PGA Championship? “If I’d know right now how long I’m going to play, I’d tell you right now,” said Park. “But unfortunately there is no surprise announcement right now, where I’m going to quit after this week or I’m going to retire after this year.
“I really don’t have the answer for you right now. But, yeah, I mean, obviously, I’d like to have a family, probably within three years or so. And after that I’m not sure if I’m going to play professionally or whether I’m going to just retire. That, I don’t know.”
With Lydia Ko (2) and Minjee Lee (one) having won three events already this season as teenagers, it should be noted that only one teen has won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in its 61-year history. In 2008, Yani Tseng was 19 years, 4 months and 16 days old upon winning this Championship at Bulle Rock Golf Club in Havre de Grace, Maryland. A pair of teens, Ko and Brooke Henderson, are currently ranked No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.
Brooke Henderson returns to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship for the second time. Last year, playing at the age of 17, Henderson joined the field at Westchester Country Club after being granted a sponsor’s exemption, as she had not yet achieved LPGA membership, which carries a minimum age requirement of 18.
In a year since finishing in an impressive tie for fifth last year in this Championship, Henderson has won the Cambia Portland Classic (she Monday qualified for Portland, not a sponsor invite), was granted LPGA membership by Commissioner Mike Whan after her August win in Portland, and turned 18 on September 10. Henderson leads the LPGA with nine top-10 finishes this year. Only Gerina Piller and Lexi Thompson have as many as seven.
WILL THE TREND END IN 2016?
Including the efforts of three-time defending champion Inbee Park, a foreign-born player has won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship 14 times in 15 years dating to 2001. The lone American victor during this decade-and-a-half stretch was Cristie Kerr, who won in 2010 at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, New York.
ONCE MAY BE A MISTAKE, TWICE IS LIKELY A PATTERN, AND THREE TIMES WOULD BE A HABIT
Lydia Ko, the No. 1 ranked player on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, has won as many or more LPGA major championships since last September than any player not named Inbee Park has won dating back to the 2011 season. In that five-plus year span, only Inbee Park (6), Ko (2), Stacy Lewis (2) and Yani Tseng (2) have claimed multiple majors on the LPGA Tour.