The U.S. Women’s Open came to Interlachen in late June 2008 and there were some precocious young players as major attractions:
Paula Creamer, 21, an eight-time LPGA Tour winner by the end of that season. Morgan Pressel, 20, the winner of the Kraft Nabisco major a year earlier. And Michelle Wie, 18, a TV-created hero advertised as the future of women’s golf.
The winner turned out to be Inbee Park, who was a couple of weeks short of her 20th birthday. On a tough-scoring Sunday at Interlachen, Park rolled in putts from all angles for a 2-under 71, compared to 78s for Stacy Lewis and Creamer — the two players ahead of her going into the last round.
The large crowds leaving Interlachen paid proper salute to the champion, without knowing how much more they would be hearing of Park. They were more certain that Wie, Creamer and Pressel would become as close as you could come to big names in women’s golf.
It is now 11 years later, again in late June, and major women’s golf has returned to the Twin Cities with the KPMG Women’s PGA at Hazeltine National. Park, Creamer, Wie and Pressel were all in the field.
Wie posted 84-82 and missed the 5-over cut by 17 strokes. Creamer posted 78-76 and missed the cut by five strokes. Pressel’s numbers were 77-73 and she missed the cut by a stroke.
And no one was surprised by those results. Consider:
Wie, now 29, was coming back from a wrist injury — another roadblock in what to this point has been a flop of a career (one major, five wins total) in comparison to the buildup.
Creamer, 32 this summer, has two wins since the end of the 2008 season — the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open and the HSBC Champions in 2014. And Pressel won her second LPGA event later in 2008, and has not won since.
No doubt about it: Inbee Park is the name from the youthful class of 2008 that adds the most stature to Interlachen’s wall of U.S. Open champions along with Bobby Jones in 1930.
Park turns 31 on July 12 and it was at this event in 2016 that she became the youngest-ever qualifier for the LPGA Hall of Fame. She has won seven majors — including three in a row in this event (2013-15) — and 19 total events on the LPGA Tour.
On Saturday, Park put herself on the leaderboard with a bogey-free, 4-under 68. She is 3 under for the tournament, tied for seventh and six strokes behind surprise leader Hannah Green, an Australian rated 114th in the world.
“I had a really good day — especially on the front nine,” Park said. “I could have made a couple more [putts], but the opportunities flew by. Just another day like today would be nice tomorrow.”
There are a couple of complications for Park that didn’t exist on that winning Sunday in 2008:
One is distance, in that the competition is hitting it way farther, Inbee isn’t a long hitter, and a windy Hazeltine is a brute. Two, the putting she did at the Interlachen was the start of a long stretch when it was the difference-maker in her Hall of Fame career, and that’s changed.
Distance: “I’m not quite that far off the tee, so 10, 11, 12, 13 are really tough holes for me. Yesterday, in the wind, I was going into the greens with 5-woods, 3-woods … made it really tough.
“Today, with less wind, I was able to play those holes a little easier.”
Putting: “I was putting really good until probably 2016. Then, the last couple of years, my ball-striking got a lot better. I hit more greens, which gave me more opportunities … and it feels like I did miss more putts.
“I’m not as sharp [putting] as before. I’m definitely looking for one of those Interlachen days of putting tomorrow.”
Park played in a featured group with long bombers Lexi Thompson and Ariya Jutanugarn on Thursday and Friday and said: “I couldn’t keep up with them. They are playing a totally different course than mine.”
That doesn’t mean the rivals are writing off Park, legendary as a hard-nosed competitor. The extra-talented Sei Young Kim, an eight-time winner at 26, had Saturday’s best round at 5-under 67 and is four strokes off the lead.
Asked about the 67, Kim said: “I felt that I really needed to make birdies, because Inbee was in front of me. She made a lot of birdies. I [could] hear that.”