Is the ladies tour the strongest it's ever been?
Sung Hyun Park’s play-off victory at the Indy Women in Tech Championship on Sunday proved two things: One, Park is now officially the current best player in the women’s game, and two, the fact that no player in recent months has been able to assert their dominance from the top spot serves to underline the sheer strength at the top of the sport.
Indeed, the World No.1 spot is being handed around like the densely wrapped gift in a game of pass the parcel. Shanshan Feng held the spot at the start of the year before relinquishing to a resurgent Inbee Park. Then swooped in Ariya Jutanugarn after her Scottish Open win at Gullane, and now S-H Park has managed to wrestle back the mantle she held for one measly week in the latter stages of 2017.
The question is, how many more layers need to be unwrapped before a player eventually stumbles upon the prize – a prolonged period of dominance?
At the moment, with the current strength in the world’s top-10 and even the top-20, the players could be playing this game for an awfully long time.
As it stands, gone are the days of dominance at the top of the game from the likes of Lorena Ochoa, Yani Tseng, and more recently Lydia Ko.
Now, it’s all about S-H Park, Jutanugarn, Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu and Lexi. Dig a little further and you’ll see the names of the aforementioned Feng, Minjee Lee, Georgia Hall, Jessica Korda, Jin Young Ko, Brooke Henderson and Nasa Hataoka.
Every one of those players is capable of going on mini runs of form and challenging for that top spot.
But, if any player is to kick on and create a gap at the top of the world, it may well be the incumbent Park.
Her win at the Brickyard Crossing last week emphasised her killer instinct. The Korean started the day two shots adrift of the leader Lizette Salas, and while her round in regulation was nothing special, she took advantage of every par 5 to get into the clubhouse at 23-under. It was a solid score, but it probably shouldn’t have been enough to win.
And then came the Salas bogey at the 17th hole to fall back into a tie with Park. The 18th, a short par 4 that had been moved up and was driveable for the final day, was playing easy. Salas’s excellent approach shot from the rough to just a few feet left her with a putt to win. What followed was probably her ugliest stroke of the day – a blatant push where the ball didn’t even make contact with the cup.
Park was handed her chance to win on a platter, and she was not going to turn this one down. On the first play-off hole, Salas made a good looking stroke for a birdie which just caught the side of the cup and failed to drop, and then Park, from a little outside of 10 feet, drained her downhill right-to-left breaking putt to close it out. It was never going to miss.
Park’s record speaks for itself. Since turning professional in 2012, Namdalla has five wins on the LPGA Tour which include two majors. Before she took up membership on the LPGA Tour, she had already notched 10 wins on the ever-improving LPGA of Korea Tour.
But there are cracks in the armour of the often stoical Park. She has been quoted in the past saying that she prefers to be behind going into the final round of a tournament. In fact, all of her LPGA wins to date have come from her entering the final round outside of the lead, not including the weather affected 36-hole Texas Classic earlier this year.
She’s yet to win an LPGA event when leading going into the final 18 holes and that is something that she’ll need to improve on if she is to pull away from the likes of Jutanugarn and Ryu.
While things are working for her at the moment, it’s unsustainable for her to expect that she can topple the leader in each event that she trails in. If she can learn how to be a front-runner and control her own destiny, then perhaps Park will get the chance to uncover that final piece of wrapping and go on to fulfil the potential that so many expectant people in her home country of Korea believe she possesses.
But with the way things are going, expect Jutanugarn to win by five at the upcoming CP Women’s Open to regain the No. 1 spot and prolong this game a little further. I certainly wouldn’t bet against that.
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