I like Mi Hyun and Grace a lot, Se Ri is by far my favorite Seoul
Sister. She was the player whose great play first got me interested
in the sport of golf. And her skill and wonderful attitude has kept
me coming back to the LPGA ever since. Thanks, Se Ri!
Ri started playing golf at the age of 14, when her dad lured her
away from track and field; she had previously done the shotput and
sprinting events. Se Ri quickly became quite good at the game, so
her father relentlessly drove her to achieve ever greater results.
She would wake up every morning at 5:30 am to run up and down the
15 flights of stairs in her apartment building. Forwards and
backwards. Working to make her track athlete's body ever stronger.
She would be at the driving range all day, even on days so cold
icicles formed in her hair, practicing relentlessly. Then there's
the famous story of how she told her dad she was afraid of cemeteries,
so her dad made her stay in one all night until she overcame her
this was hard on a young girl who wanted to spend time with her
friends, and do stuff other teenagers do, yet had no time for anything
but golf. But she soon started getting results. Before long, Se
Ri was the best amateur in the country. This is especially amazing
when you consider that, in Korea, there are almost no public courses,
and Se Ri's family was only able to afford to buy her a membership
to a club for one year. She essentially got all her experience on
real courses during practice rounds at tournaments, and the rest
of the time was confined to driving ranges. The other girls did
not welcome the middle class golfer, either, as they were mostly
from wealthy families. Se Ri was hurt, but kept practicing and winning.
It was a little consolation.
got to the point where her family was so strapped for cash that
Se Ri was taking buses to tournaments! So she turned pro, and quickly
made a name for herself. In two years on the KLPGA tour, she won
6 times and finished 2nd seven times (in only 14 tournaments played!).
This got the attention of Samsung, who signed her to a lucrative
contract. Now she no longer had to worry about money, and Samsung
afforded her the chance to try the next step: to come to America
and see if she could conquer the LPGA. No Korean golfer had had
much success over here, though, so it seemed like a long shot. They
hired David Leadbetter to help tune her game. This was the first
time Leadbetter had elected to work with a woman as a regular pupil.
He was impressed by Se Ri's strength, work ethic and talent. Their
goal was simple: get Se Ri onto the LPGA for 1998. Hopefully once
there she could win a couple of tournaments and make a name for
was hard on Se Ri, being in Orlando, thousands of miles away from
her home, in a place where she barely spoke the language. But she
worked on, and again her efforts paid off. She easily won the Qualifying
school tournament (tying with Cristie Kerr). At least a few people
knew what was coming next: Laura Davies, who had been waxed by Se
Ri in a tournament in Korea several months earlier, actually placed
a 60 pound wager on her to win her inaugural tournament in the LPGA!
She didn't, but in just a few short months, she made history by
becoming the youngest woman to ever win the LPGA Championship, one
of the four Majors in the LPGA. What's more amazing, it was her
first win and first TOP TEN on the LPGA. She handled the pressure
like a veteran, though only 20, leading the tournament from start
to finish. From there it's been one amazing accomplishment after
another, including winning three more majors, and setting the low
score in LPGA history by being the first woman to ever shoot 61
(at the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic).
1998, the pressure and fame eventually got to be too much, and on
a trip back to Korea, she was hospitalized for exhaustion. The media
coverage of her is such that cameramen actually entered her hospital
room and filmed her there, tears running down her cheeks, with tubes
coming out of her arms. Since that day, Se Ri has been trying to
gain more control of her life, more space to live and not just be
a golf machine, while at the same time continuing her awesome play.
It hasn't been easy, but she is easy to root for in her quest. She
has tried to endear herself to Americans by learning English and
using it (many of the other Korean players still use translators).
Her English is a bit confusing at times, but it's still better than
not using it at all! She is relentlessly positive, and genuinely
seems to enjoy herself out there. I really became a Se Ri fan not
after watching her play, but after seeing her interviewed. She comes
across as a bubbly girl/woman who never has a bad word to say about
anyone, and who is having a ball doing what she does. She is already
among the best in the world, and as she continues to work hard and
get more practice playing on real courses and not just driving ranges,
her overall game gets stronger and stronger.
the last several seasons, Se Ri has established herself as the second
best player in the women's game. But as awesome as her achievements
have been, she has not yet been able to topple Annika Sorenstam
from the #1 spot on tour. Still, her list of gaudy accomplishments
keeps growing. She became the youngest woman in history to win four
Majors when she captured the 2002 LPGA Championship. She holds two
of the best season ending scoring averages in history. She finally
won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average in 2003, the first time
she broke Sorenstam's stranglehold on post season hardware (although,
to be fair, Annika would have won it had she showed up for more
tournaments; Sorenstam failed to meet the minimum requirement and
so, despite having a lower scoring average than Se Ri, did not win
the award). Most impressively, Se Ri became the first woman in 58
years to make the cut in a men's golf tournament when she played
the SBS Super Tournament on the Korean PGA tour. In fact, not only
did she make the cut, she finished tenth, and was in contention
for the first three days to win!!
was by and large a tough year for Se Ri, although she had one impressive
highlight early on. In May she won the Michelob Ultra Open for her
22nd career win. More importantly, this gained her the final point
she needed to qualify, at age 26, for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Thus,
she became one of the youngest players in history to manage this
feat (although she must wait until the 2007 season to enter the
Hall, as you must play at least ten years on tour before entry).
almost immediately after this achievement, Se Ri's season took a
sharp downturn. Her biggest problem was her driving: all of a sudden,
she found it impossible to keep her driver straight for any period
of time. As her driving accuracy plunged, all her other stats followed.
Se Ri had ended the 2003 season with top tens in 13 of 14 events.
In 2004, by contrast, she managed only one top ten in her final
13 events (although she came close a few times). She even took a
month off mid-season in order to fix her problems, but when she
came back, she produced the worst event of her entire career, the
first time she had ever finished last in the field (at the Samsung
World Championship, an event she had won in 1999).
Ri chalked up her struggles to burn out, and claimed that she had
not taken more than four days off in a row since starting golf as
a teenager. She intended during the off-season to take five weeks
off and hopefully rejuvenate herself. But just as she prepared to
start her winter training in January, 2005, her longtime caddie,
Colin Cann, resigned to work with up and coming American star Paula
Creamer. Still, she hoped that a few months of work and she would
be back on the right track for 2005.
2005 turned out to be far, far worse than even 2004 had been. She
seemed completely at sea at times, and in the entire year was not
even able to achieve a top twenty finish, let along a win. Se Ri
Pak, a golfer who had only twice finished outside of the top three
on the money list,was not even able to crack the top 100 in 2005.
It got so bad that there was even talk that she might forfeit her
exempt status for 2006 because she was not able to play enough events.
Exacerbating things even further, she broke a finger at the British
Open in late July, and was not able to play another event for the
rest of the year. She was thoroughly burned out, and talked to the
press about needing to find interests outside golf.
the enforced time off due to the finger proved to be a blessing
rather than a curse. Unable to practice, she was in fact able to
indulge some of her other interests, including mountain climbing,
kick boxing and taekwando. She claimed in December, as she headed
back to Florida to renew training, that she was refreshed and ready
once again to train at her usual levels. She then started a super
intense practice regimen lasting most days from 7 am until after
dark, all with the goal of at last recapturing her form of old.
2006, even in early tournaments, the fruits of that labor were obvious.
Not having played in eight months, she was definitely rusty, but
still putting together decent outings, with finishes averaging around
40th place. But after she missed the cut at the Takefuji Classic
in April, her game took a turn for the better. A few weeks later,
she made her first top ten since 2004 at the Ginn Clubs and Resorts
Open, where she finished ninth. Her driving accuracy improved to
the point where she was usually hitting more than 10 fairways/round,
light years better than the 5 - 6 fairways she was averaging in
the depths of her slump. At times, all that was holding her back
was her putting.
came the McDonald's LPGA Championship, her second Major since returning.
Se Ri had already shown in 2006 her old ability to play tough courses,
and it came in handy here. She managed to shoot all four rounds
under par, and came into the final hole with a one shot lead and
the event seemingly in hand. But she three putted the final green
and ended up in a playoff with Karrie Webb, who herself was experiencing
a renaissance in 2006. Se Ri's drive on the playoff hole was mediocre,
and she left herself 201 yards to the pin for her second, while
Webb was only about 135 yards away. Reaching into her bag of tricks,
Se Ri then hit arguably the greatest shot of her career, a lightning
bolt with a rescue club that ended up mere inches from the hole.
The tap in birdie completed one of the greatest comebacks in the
history of sports. She had fallen almost off the map in 2005, but
just a year later, she claimed one of the most important events
in women's golf in the most amazing way imaginable. Once again,
Se Ri is back, perhaps better than ever!
Ri Pak started 2007 slowly, but still had several good finishes
to her credit. She came tantalizingly close to finally winning the
Kraft Nabisco; she led after three rounds, but had an uncharacteristic
collapse in the final few holes to drop down to 10th. In June, after
finishing the first round at the LPGA Championship, she officially
qualified for the LPGA Hall of Fame at last. At the US Women's Open,
she finished tied for 4th. But it was at the next event, the Jamie
Farr, where she really excelled. She shot a 63 in the opening round
and four rounds in the 60s to win for the 5th time, becoming only
the third woman in LPGA history to win the same event five times.
November of 2007, Se Ri Pak finally entered the World Golf Hall
of Fame, becoming the first Korean, male of female, to ever do so.
She had the honor of raising the Korean flag to fly outside the
Hall. It had never flown there before, but will now do so forever.
After the season ended, she played in two important team events.
At the Kyoraku Cup, she was part of the Korean team. She played
the first day only and won her match, but then had to leave to go
to Perth, Australia, where she prepared for her role as captain
of the Lexus Cup team. Korea would go on to lose the Kyoraku Cup
in a playoff, but Se Ri powered the Asian team to an overwhelming
win at the Lexus Cup. She herself was undefeated, winning both of
her team matches paired with In-Kyung Kim, and tying a match with
Suzann Pettersen after Pettersen was forced to quit due to injury.
Ri did not have a strong start to her 2008 season. She notched a
top ten at the Nabisco, but missed the cut for the first time ever
at the US Women's Open and failed to defend her title at the Farr,
finishing outside the top ten. She was in the news as much as ever,
however. Her appearance on a comedy Korean TV show called Golden
Fishery was one of the highest rated they ever had, and the success
of the 'Se Ri Kids' in 2008 reminded people over and over of her
impact. The Se Ri Kids, so named by the Korean media, are a group
of Korean woman golfers who were directly inspired to take up the
game by Se Ri's success in 1998; almost all at once, they began
winning a lot on the LPGA in 2008. Among the Se Ri Kids in the news
in 2008 were Inbee Park, who won the US Women's Open, and who took
the game up two days after watching Se Ri's US Women's Open win
ten years earlier; Eun Hee Ji, who won in Rochester just a week
before the Open; Ji Young Oh, who captured the State Farm in July;
and Na Yeon Choi, who was one of the top rookies of 2008, and who
almost won the Evian in late July.
was an all right season for Se Ri, at least by the lesser standards
of the last few years. She finished 30th on the money list, but
only notched two top tens. Her best moment came at the State Farm.
She finished as the clubhouse leader, but fellow Korean In-Kyung
Kim made two late birdies to beat Se Ri by a shot.
saw Se Ri return to the winner's circle for the first time since
2007. The event was the Bell Micro Classic in May. With one round
to go, Se Ri was in a tie for the lead with Major winners Suzann
Pettersen and Brittany Lincicome. Then the rains came, and the last
round was canceled. They decided instead to have a three way playoff
for the championship. On the second playoff hole, Pettersen overshot
the green and could not get up and down. Se Ri also flew the green
into a bunker, hit a decent shot to ten feet, then nailed the clutch
putt for the par save. On to the next hole! This time, Pak hit her
drive into a fairway bunker, and was left with just about an impossible
shot to get it close to the flag. Just what she was waiting for!
She hit the heroic shot, one of the best of her career, to six feet
and drained the birdie for her 25th career win.
Ri finished the year with 3 top tens and a 32nd position on the
Ri struggled with injuries in 2011, and was not able to win, but
still had a decent season, finishing 27th on the money list with
more than $400,000 in earnings. She put herself into contention
for wins several times. She had a fourth place finish at the Sime
Darby in Malaysia, despite having such severe back pain that she
could not bend down to retrieve her ball from the cup after each
putt. Her best Majors were a tie for 10th at the Nabisco (which
was nearly her best ever finish at that event, the only Major she
still has not won); and a tie for 14th at the British Women's Open,
after she gave fans a thrill by taking the second round lead. She
also had a tie for 5th at the final State Farm Classic. Perhaps
the strangest moment of her year was when she was disqualified for
signing an incorrect scorecard at the Hana Bank, the only event
played every year in Korea. She claimed it was the first time that
had ever happened in her career.
the end of the year, Se Ri signed a new sponsorship deal with KDB
(Korea Development Bank). The deal was for three years, a good sign
that Se Ri is not thinking about retiring any time soon.
was a frustrating season for Se Ri. When she was healthy, she played
very well, and put herself in contention several times for wins.
But she struggled with various medical issues the rest of the time.
Some of the maladies weren't even golf related. In Alabama early
in the year, she tripped down a flight of stairs and injured her
shoulder; this shoulder problem nagged her the rest of the season.
big focus for Se Ri in 2012 was the return of the US Women's Open
to Blackwolf Run. This was, of course, the place where, in 1998
as a 20 year old rookie, she won the longest tournament in LPGA
history to set off the Korean golf revolution. Pak wanted nothing
more than to win there again, but her shoulder problems made it
doubtful she would even be able to play. Fortunately, she not only
played, she finished tied for 9th. She was there to congratulate
the champion, Na Yeon Choi, who was one of the many 'Se Ri Kids'
who had been inspired by Pak's heroics to follow her dreams to the
Se Ri's five 2012 LPGA top tens were a near miss in Korea at the
Hana Bank. She was still in it on the final hole, but needed an
eagle to have any chance. Her eagle chip was tracking, but alas
stopped just short of the hole. She had, however, won in Korea earlier
in the year, when she claimed her sponsor's event on the KLPGA tour,
the KDB Daewoo Securities Classic. It was her first win in Korea
in nine years, and among those she beat in the field that week were
Open champ Choi.
Ri finished her year playing at the Swinging Skirts event in Taiwan.
Although she did not win there, she did win the unofficial Skins
Game that preceded the event. Se Ri's final position on the LPGA
tour money list: 33rd, with over $430,000 earned. Considering she
played injured and missed a lot of events, that's a pretty solid
Ri's 2013 season was much like her 2012 season. She finished just
one spot worse, 34th, and made about $10,000 more money than in
2012. She carded three top tens during the year, with her best finish
a tie for 4th at the year's fifth Major, the Evian Championship.
There she contended much of Sunday, but was not able to make the
birdies she needed to catch the leaders. She finished her year with
back to back top tens at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in Korea
(T-8th) and the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship (T-5th).
Ri had a pretty good start to her 2014 campaign. She had a few top
twenties early, then a T-6th at the Kia Classic. Everything was
geared towards her finally winning the Kraft Nabisco, the one Major
that has always eluded her. And she made a great run at it, too!
She was in contention on Sunday, but the course was especially set
up for long bombers that season, with basically no rough, and Se
Ri couldn't hang with Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson. Thompson eventually
won, but Se Ri had her best finish yet at the event, a tie for 4th.
Next year for sure!!
Ri wound up playing only intermittently the rest of the season,
perhaps once again dealing with injuries? She had 3 top tens and
finished 59th on the money list. In the Winter, she signed a new
sponsorship deal with Hana Bank, calling it her final two-year deal
before retirement. She wanted to make one more push to try to make
the Olympic team in 2016. She joined So Yeon Ryu, Hee Young Park
and MJ Hur on the Hana Bank team.
Se Ri struggled most of 2015 with injuries. She withdrew from several
events before stopping for the year in June. Before that, she had
some limited success, notably a tie for 10th at the Kia Classic
in 2016, Se Ri announced that she would be retiring at the end of
the season. She didn't have a very good season on the fairways,
with only one result inside the top 40. But everywhere she went,
she was treated with the respect she had earned as a true pioneer.
She played her final event in America, fittingly, at the US Women's
Open, where she missed the cut.
few months later, she played her last ever LPGA event at the KEB
Hana Bank in Korea. She played one round, then dropped out. She
was treated to an amazing farewell celebration after she finished,
with a children's choir, a video presentation, and a sea of the
golfers she had inspired, all wearing "Thanks, Se Ri"
hats to honor her. It was a veritable who's who of Korean greats,
from her old friend Grace Park, to recent Hall of Famer Inbee Park,
to So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi and younger players like In Gee Chun,
Lydia Ko and Hyo Joo Kim.
Ri will be focusing on coaching, and had one great success when
she coached the women's golf team at the Rio Olympics. She helped
spur Inbee Park to her amazing gold medal performance there.
to Se Ri Pak on her historic career, and good luck to her during
the next stage of her career!