Sporting Life

Sublime serenity hides a ruthless winning instinct

The legendary cyclist Miguel Indurain's resting heart rate was said to be 28 and that refrigerated Swede, Bjorg Borg, apparently had a slightly more intense reading of 36. But it's best that we don't ever measure Park In Bee's because she'd make a zen monk seem excitable.

In modern times, we tend to associate toughness with a glare and a swear, but the winner of the HSBC Women's Champions is among sports' politest warriors. In another life she might have been a librarian. At best she wears an enigmatic half-smile, like she's figured out the route to nirvana which in her case is the break and grain of the putt before her. This is a woman who speaks softly and carries a very accurate putting stick.

Her strength isn't in muscle or intimidating tattoo, it's there in her serenity. Pressure for her is something only to do with tyres. A shooter I know used to hone his concentration by getting his trainer to shake a rattle in his face as he fired. You could similarly set off a cannon next to Park and she wouldn't have missed the six-metre putt on the 17th, when Ariya Jutanugarn started closing in on her in the final round.

Calm is Park's signature and even her slow, non-violent swing seems an extension of that personality. "Pretty calm and settled," is how her sister In Ah describes her. "Very cool and a unique character," says caddie Brad Beecher.

Yesterday, the tournament wide open, she made five birdies in a row, which itself would be impressive. Till you consider that a thumb injury ensured that she didn't hit a ball from Aug 21 to Dec 11 and this was her second LPGA event since.

Calm? No. This was seriously chilled-out golf.

  • LEADERBOARD


    FINAL ROUND (SELECTED)

    269 Park In Bee (Kor) 67 67 71 64

    270 Ariya Jutanugarn (Tha) 67 68 69 66

    272 Park Sung Hyun (Kor) 68 68 68 68

    274 Michelle Wie (USA) 66 69 67 72, Brooke Henderson (Can) 67 70 71 66, Jang Ha Na (Kor) 70 67 68 69

    275 Ryu So Yeon (Kor) 73 70 66 66, Anna Nordqvist (Swe) 67 70 70 68

    276 Mirim Lee (Kor) 74 68 69 65, Chella Choi (Kor) 70 70 70 66, Lydia Ko (Nzl) 69 68 67 72

    301 Amanda Tan (Sgp) 76 73 79 73

In modern times, we tend to associate toughness with a glare and a swear, but the winner of the HSBC Women's Champions is among sports' politest warriors. In another life she might have been a librarian. At best she wears an enigmatic half-smile, like she's figured out the route to nirvana which in her case is the break and grain of the putt before her. This is a woman who speaks softly and carries a very accurate putting stick.

Normal people would lose their feel, rhythm, precision and confidence after a 2016 of injury, 10 events, no wins, three withdrawals, but normal people she is not. Her grandfather, 82, recently walked 28 holes in a day to follow her, so consider her genes. The only weakness we could dig out last evening came from her sister, who smilingly declared that Park "tries to cook".

If we want to place Park in the wider realm of sport, we could say without too much exaggeration that she's the competitive second-cousin of Michael Phelps, who is called a racer. He likes to race. Knows how to race. Brings his best to a race.

Phelps learnt to win, till he could do it in any pool, at any time of day, with the flu or feeling fit, with 100 cameras on him and his goggles full of water. For London 2012, he trained intermittently and sloppily and still won four golds, which must make every other Olympian sick to their fourth-place stomach.

Park, who is from this tribe of purpose and poise, is less famous but in a way even cooler. Swimming takes a concentrated, competitive minute or two or four, but golf's uniqueness is its excessive time to doubt. Five hours out there like yesterday, where it was hot, then windy, then rainy, with enough time to think of misses, enough places to miss, enough shots whose misses would hurt. And yet she did not really miss.

Perhaps because each win of her career, she said, brought her experience. Each win, she said, made her calmer. Not bad for a woman who for a time could not win. She won a Major in 2008 and then didn't win for three years and now can't stop. Now, with her, the amazing has become routine.

In 2013, she was the first woman since 1950 to win the first three Majors of the year. In 2015, she won two more Majors. Now she has seven Majors, which comprise a massive 39 per cent of her 18 LPGA Tour wins. She knows how to win and when to win. Last year she didn't win on tour, her thumb hurt, but she practised for six hours a day and turned up at the Rio Olympics and won gold. By five strokes.

So, really, what happened this week can't legitimately be called a surprise because the astonishing performance is who she is and what she does. That she still has only 10,062 Twitter followers - an irritant like Nick Kyrgios has 206,604 - seems absurd, but it's scarcely expected to raise her heartbeat.

Indeed, once she'd finished her round yesterday there was no jubilation from her for the last flight was yet to finish. So she sat in the scorer's hut, took out her compact and applied make-up. It was, of course, a very calm performance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2017, with the headline 'Sublime serenity hides a ruthless winning instinct'. Print Edition | Subscribe