Inbee Park and the Grand Slam. It sounds like the title of a Roald Dahl novel.
But, for the LPGA Tour, it has suddenly become a very real problem.
On Sunday, Park ran away with the U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack G.C. in the Hamptons, making it a clean sweep of all three majors played in 2013. One to go, right? Wrong.
The LPGA Tour has five majors, like the 50-plus set on the Champions Tour. And that fifth major was added for this season. The Evian Masters in France has been a great tournament for two decades, but the water bottler was not going to soldier on for the money it puts into the tournament to merely be the LPGA equivalent of The Players Championship — not recognized as a major despite its pedigree.
In men’s golf, buying into the majors isn’t possible. The Players has the richest purse in golf, and it’s still not and may never be in the club.
On the LPGA Tour? Well, don’t call it buying, but all of a sudden in 2011, it was announced the Evian Masters would become the tour’s fifth major, move to a September date (instead of somewhat buried the week before the Women’s British Open) and, most importantly at the time, remain on the schedule.
No one could have been prescient enough to know that adding a fifth major would cause such a big problem. No one knew Inbee Park was going to win the first three majors of the year, becoming the first player since Babe Zaharias to do that — in the LPGA Tour’s inaugural season in 1950. That year, the tour only had three majors, so Zaharias conceivably won the Grand Slam, right?
So how come no one talks about her season that way? It’s all a matter of semantics.
In baseball, a grand slam drives in four runs. There’s no special name for a three-run dinger, hence Zaharias doesn’t get the credit she deserves and, sadly, former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver is no longer alive to extol the virtues of the second-best kind of home run.
That means that a grand slam should be four majors, right? Hold up a minute. A grand slam also clears the bases of runners. It’s a sweep of the basepaths. So doesn’t that imply that a golf Grand Slam is winning every major in front of a player? In that case, to win the calendar Grand Slam, Park is going to have to win two more majors.
And here’s where it gets really tricky.
Let’s say Park wins the Women’s British Open next month. For the crowd who says winning four majors in a year is the Grand Slam, she did it. Get the ticker tape ready — or some recycled paper since there’s no such thing as ticker tape anymore — and throw the Korean a parade.
For the crowd that says Park must sweep all five majors, there will be a two-month wait to see if she fulfills her destiny.
But let’s say Park doesn’t win the Women’s British Open, then does win the inaugural major-championship Evian in September. That’s four majors in a calendar year. Does that count as a Grand Slam?
Then both camps might turn on Park. She will have neither won four majors in a row nor have the chance to win all five.
Getting recognition for the Grand Slam is a pretty tough task, arguably even more difficult than winning the tournaments themselves because the player isn’t the one who gets to decide how history judges them.
Take Ben Hogan in 1953. He won the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship that year, but couldn’t compete in the PGA Championship due to a scheduling conflict. So he doesn’t get a Grand Slam, while Walter Burkemo gets to go down in history as the 1953 PGA champion.
How about Tiger Woods? When the final putt fell at the 2001 Masters, Woods held all four major titles at one time. That’s got to be a Grand Slam. It’s a sweep. Oh no, critics said. The Grand Slam has to be done in a calendar year, in their prescribed order. So Woods’ accomplishment is referred to as the Tiger Slam.
Never mind the semantics about men who have won a pseudo-Slam. The LPGA Tour’s own past makes this question plenty complicated on its own.
As mentioned, the LPGA Tour began in 1950 with three majors — the Women’s Western Open, U.S. Women’s Open and the Titleholders Championship. Babe Zaharias won them all that year.
Then in 1955, the LPGA Championship was added as a fourth major. The LPGA had four majors until 1966, then the Titleholders went away in ’67, dropping the major tally to three. The Women’s Western Open went under in 1968, leaving two majors for four years. Amazingly, no one managed to sweep those. Then the Titleholders came back for a third major in 1972, albeit for just one year.
Then it was back to two majors for six more years. No sweep. Then in 1979, the du Maurier Classic became the third recognized major. In 1983, the old Dinah Shore, now called the Kraft Nabisco Championship finally made the LPGA Grand Slam whole after 17 years.
Everything was great until 2001, when the Women’s British Open replaced the du Maurier as a major. Then the du Maurier became the Canadian Women’s Open, which is still around now. Karrie Webb is the only player who ever managed to win the Super Career Grand Slam, taking the five tournaments recognized as majors between 1983 and last year.
God knows what to call it if Webb ruins this whole Grand Slam discussion by selfishly winning the Evian in September. But back to Park.
At a minimum, if Park wins four of the five majors this year, in any order, she will have taken 80 percent of the majors played in 2013. That’s the best batting average in the majors since Zaharias in 1950. Pat Bradley won three of four in 1986, so that was 75 percent. There’s little consolation in that, probably.
But, in the event that Park doesn’t sweep all five LPGA Tour majors, her accomplishment deserves some kind of moniker. And if history decides it falls short of Grand Slam, then how about we call it what Jason Sobel proposed? The “Inside the Park Slam.”
It makes sense. An inside-the-park home run is way more taxing than a grand slam, which is essentially a leisurely 360-foot trot. Park will have faced a more daunting task and, while not having cleared the fence, it goes down on the scorecard as a home run.
Or she could just save us all the trouble.