Inbee Park: The most under-rated athlete on the planet?

Inbee Park

You would have to travel a long, long way in this world to find somebody who has never heard of Tiger Woods. 

Understandable, of course. Like or dislike the guy at your discretion but you can’t deny he almost single-handedly revolutionised golf, transforming it from a niche, mainly white, mostly middle-class sport into a multi-billion dollar industry. He’s kind of a big deal. People know him.

By comparison, Inbee Park could walk down most streets in any of the world’s biggest cities and not draw a second glance.

If only the people who walk past her knew.

If only they knew she is one of the world’s top golfers, male or female.

If only they knew what she has achieved to date.

If only they knew the historic things she stands to achieve in the future.

Since turning professional in 2006, Park, has won 30 times around the world and 20 times on the LPGA.

Seven of those wins have been majors. She was pipped in an eight-hole sudden-death play-off for an eighth earlier today at the ANA Inspiration.

Inbee Park 2

Given that majors are generally accepted as the most reasonable barometer of golfing greatness, it’s only appropriate that we judge Park the same way.

Her seven wins is equal to the haul of Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb. Only six players – Patty Berg (15), Mickey Wright (13), Louise Suggs (11), Annika Sorenstam and Babe Zaharias (10 each), and Betsy Rawls (8) – have won more. All are rightly lauded as greats of the game.

Park, at 29 years of age, is on her way to eclipsing them. She won her first major ten years ago. Assuming the next ten to 12 years brings the same level of success, as is entirely possible, Park will have won more major championships than any female golfer in the history of the game. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that she could even surpass Jack Nicklaus’ haul of 18 victories to become golf's most prolific major winner of all.

It’s not just about the wins, though.

Park has played in 47 majors to date and made the cut in all bar four. She has other 19 top ten finishes and 24 top-25 finishes in all.

Interestingly, she has only two runner-up finishes, which speaks to her incredible ability to get the job done. No matter what happened earlier today, she is a closer, a stone-cold winner.

She’s also an Olympic gold medallist and has earned close to $14m in career prize money. She is one of the biggest earners in the history of the LPGA. Not just that, she has also won more prize money than all but roughly 125 players in the history of the PGA Tour. Given the yawning chasm in prize money between the men’s and women’s games, that’s no mean feat. 

Be under no illusions: Inbee Park is quietly assembling one of the game's great careers. 

So, why does she remain a relative unknown?

Inbee Park 3

Look, there’s no getting away from the fact that women’s golf remains under-represented. Golf is a niche sport. You have to dig a long way in from the back pages of most newspapers to find any mention of it. That’s not a criticism. It’s just the way it is.

Most privately-owned media organisations have an obligation to put what resources they have – often very limited resources - towards creating content that appeals to the widest possible audience. Some people think they have a responsibility to grow the game. They don't. That's a nice by-product of them doing their jobs well. Rather, their biggest responsibility is to turn a profit. If they don’t, the lights go out and the industry contracts little by little.

In a rudimental sense, it’s a matter of supply and demand. Right now, as has historically been the case, there’s a greater demand for men’s golf. Fact. A sad one, perhaps, but a fact nonetheless. The perfect scenario is one where the responsibility to turn a profit aligns with the expectation you play your part in creating an ideal world. That’s hard to achieve and even harder to justify when there are accounts to balance.

And so the issue exacerbates, not least because widespread appeal is largely media-driven. Television, newspapers, magazines, websites and social media platforms create the interest; public and commercial support sustains it. But when there needs to be substantial appeal in the first instance to justify using resources to create that content, it quickly becomes a horrible Catch-22. Soon, everybody is frustrated with each other and the problem becomes perpetual.

All the while, the wheels continue to turn. The talented athletes of the women’s professional game keep on doing their thing, and few as impressively as Inbee Park.

Slowly, surely, she is rewriting history - yet most people are oblivious to it.

If only they knew.

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