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19 Mar 2019

Who Inspired Greatness in Past Champions?

 

Whether it’s climbing the corporate ladder, ascending to positions of leadership or reaching the pinnacle of professional sports, there’s a common thread that runs throughout many women’s story of success. 

They got a little help along the way.

Some received guidance from a coach or mentor. Others learned by watching an idol from afar. And many, relied on family. The four winners of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – Inbee Park, Brooke Henderson, Danielle Kang and Sung Hyun Park – each found their way to the top of the women’s game by drawing on the inspiration of others.

“For me, [it was] my dad just saying that I want to play golf with you,” Inbee said in 2015, days before she went on to win her third consecutive KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Westchester Country Club. “It doesn’t take a lot to inspire somebody. It can be just a little thing.”

For Inbee, that little thing came from her father, Gun Gyu Park, whose simple suggestion would forever change the course of the 10-year-old’s life. Two years later, Inbee moved from Korea to the United States where she pursued her dream of playing professional golf. Twice she won the Girls Junior PGA Championship, which gave her a taste of competitive golf at its finest.

“Winning that event was really special for me and that really inspired me into the game,” Inbee said about her junior days. “Now, winning another PGA of America tournament is such an honor for me.”

She had no problem converting her success as a junior to the professional ranks as she joined the LPGA Tour in 2007. When she reached the 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, she’d won the event the three previous years and seeing her name etched over and over on one of the most prestigious trophies in the women’s game became its own motivator.

“Putting my name alongside Annika Sorenstam or Patty Berg, legends of golf, just being a part of history of this golf tournament, I feel extremely honored,” said Inbee. “This is definitely one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve ever had.”

At Sahalee Country Club, Inbee came up short of a fourth consecutive win. Instead, it was a young up and comer named Brooke Henderson who captured her first major title outside Seattle.

Like Park, Henderson drew early inspiration from her family. Her father, Dave, is her coach. Her mother, Darlene, is the family’s traveling cheerleader. But it’s Brooke’s sister, Brittany, who holds the most influential role as her caddie and biggest source of motivation.

“I was just always trying to be like her and beat her,” Brooke said about Brittany, who is six years older. “Everything she did I tried to do just a little bit better.”

Brittany was a standout player at Coastal Carolina University and further inspired her sister to pursue her own career in golf. At the age of 17, Brooke won for the first time on the LPGA Tour at the 2015 Cambia Portland Classic, which earned her membership on the LPGA Tour. The following year, at just 18 years of age, she became the youngest winner of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

“That’s amazing to think about all the incredible players that came before me,” Brooke said after her win. “I was reading some of the names on this trophy and it’s very, very cool.”

From the start, the week seemed to belong to Brooke. She found inspiration among the towering pines at Sahalee Country Club, which reminded her of her first victory on a similar track in Portland. Then, during the opening round, she made a hole-in-one. The ace earned the Canadian a car, which she gave to the one person who was by her side every step of the way, her sister, Brittany.

“She continues to inspire me,” Brooke said about her sister. “It’s really cool we’re able to share this journey together.”

Although her parents were back home in Canada and not on hand to see Brooke win her first major title, the entire Henderson family plays a critical role week in and week out in Brooke’s success on Tour.

“Having my mom and my sister and my dad travel with me and be a part of this amazing career and lifestyle that I have is amazing,” Brooke told LPGA.com after her win in Seattle. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without all three of them.”

Like Brooke, Danielle Kang is motivated by a sibling. Her brother, Alex, is two years older than Danielle and he was the one who drove her to take up the game.

“My brother inspired me the way he practiced, the way he loved the competition,” Danielle said. “I just wanted to be him.”

Alex also played a critical role in helping his sister win for the first time on Tour.

When Danielle arrived at Olympia Fields Country Club for the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, it was the first time she played the storied track. Six years into her career on the LPGA Tour and still looking for her first win, the American was looking for any edge that would give her a chance at victory come Sunday. Danielle knew her brother had played Olympia Fields before. Alex is an accomplished golfer in his own right who has played on the Web.com and PGA Tours. He shared his insights on Olympia Fields with his sister, who mapped out a strategy to attack the course.

“He planned out the golf course for me,” Danielle said about Alex. “‘You’re going to hit driver here, you’re going to make sure to lay up here.’ I just stuck to that the next four days and I won.” 

Alex has also become a source of inspiration away from the course. He’s helped fill the void left by the loss of their father, K.S., who died of cancer in 2013. K.S. was a guiding force for Danielle, especially on the course. He caddied for Danielle in her two U.S. Women’s Amateur victories. Alex is like their father in that they’re both men of few words, but Alex often echoes the same sentiments. He was the first one Danielle called after her victory in Chicago.

“’Good job,’” Danielle recalled her brother saying to her. “I could hear the proudness.” 

2018 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship winner Sung Hyun Park’s origins in the game are similar to her fellow champions in that she was introduced to the game by a member of her family, but it was a larger than life figure who took the lead from there.

At 7-years-old, Sung Hyun’s mother, Geum Ja, took her to an indoor driving range in the heart of downtown Seoul. The year was 2000, the same year that Tiger Woods recorded one of the most incredible seasons in golf history with nine victories including three major titles. That success required no translation in Korea, where Sung Hyun began emulating the 14-time major champion and modeling her swing after Woods. Park’s textbook swing and stoic demeanor has earned her the nickname “Tiger” on the LPGA Tour.

“It’s something a little embarrassing to be compared to someone that’s so great,” Sung Hyun said.

While traveling the world competing on the LPGA Tour, Sung Hyun keeps tabs on her idol and as Woods made his long-anticipated return to the PGA Tour in 2018, Park kept a watchful eye.

“Seeing him do well gives me more confidence,” Park said in August 2018. “It makes me love to play again.”

If simply watching Woods gives Sung Hyun that sort of motivation, imagine what meeting the man would do for her game. In February 2019, thanks to a mutual sponsor, Sung Hyun got the chance to meet Woods during a commercial shoot. Later that month, Sung Hyun recorded her sixth career victory on the LPGA Tour and credited meeting her idol for her latest win.

“If Tiger is watching this interview, then I would want to say that because we met, you gave me such a good energy,” Sung Hyun said after her victory in Singapore. “That made me win this tournament.”

Sung Hyun, Danielle, Brooke and Inbee each took their own path to the top of the women’s game, but they all got a little help along the way. Inspired by sources near or far, each of these champions have become their own success story and a source of inspiration to the next generation seeking to achieve their own greatness in the women’s game.

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