South Korea: the Latest Women's Golf Pipeline
Perhaps the world should have seen this coming three years ago, when North Korean president Kim Jong II revealed that he had aced five holes in a single round at the Pyongyang Golf Club en route to a 38-under-par 34, which broke the world record by 25 strokes.
While some might, uh, contest Kim's claim, there's no disputing that the Korean peninsula has become a pipeline for first-rate golfers, especially women. The best of them are Se Ri Pak and Grace Park. Last month the 20-year-old Pak advanced to the final stage of LPGA Q school, which is scheduled for Oct. 20-24 in Daytona Beach, by winning the first stage in Venice, Fla., with a 12-under 276, nine strokes better than her more heralded peer, Kelli Kuehne. "Physically, she's really strong," says Kim Williams, who was paired with Pak for a round at this year's U.S. Women's Open, in which Pak finished an impressive 21st. "Plus, she's very focused. It doesn't seem like she has too many distractions."
Park, 18, is also turning heads. A freshman at Arizona State, Park was medalist in her first college tournament, last month's Rolex Fall Preview in Madison, Wis. Few expect Park to stay in college for four years. "She could be a pro right now, and a good one," says Wake Forest coach Dianne Dailey. "She consistently hits the ball farther than anyone in college golf. Her swing is awesome."
Pak and Park have similar backgrounds. Both have been athletes since they were very young ( Pak was a runner and shot-putter, Park a national roller skating champion), and both were pushed into golf by hard-driving parents. For most of her career, Pak has been coached by her father, Jun Chun, an avid golfer. Last year, after she had won three tournaments in South Korea, the business conglomerate Samsung signed Pak to a 10-year contract and arranged for her to receive instruction in the U.S. from swing guru David Leadbetter.
Park started taking golf lessons in the second grade. "We decided to make Grace a big golf star," says her mother, Lee Jin Ae. After some initial resistance, Park slowly warmed to the sport. When she finished elementary school, her parents, eager that she get better training, sent her to live in the U.S., first in Hawaii, then in Arizona. "I say this with great respect," says Dailey, "but the young Korean golfers aren't your typical American teens. They work amazingly hard, and they're very single-minded. I wouldn't be surprised to see more on the way."
Gilbert to Begin Chemo For Inoperable Cancer
There was more bad news last week for Senior tour golfer Larry Gilbert, who learned he had lung cancer on Sept. 2. Further tests taken in Nashville revealed inoperable tumors in his left shoulder and on a rib. This week the 54-year-old Gilbert, who won his first major, the Senior Players Championship, earlier this year and is currently ranked seventh on the Senior money list, is scheduled to begin chemotherapy in Lexington, Ky., his hometown. "Sometimes life deals hard blows," he says. "This is just another hurdle."
The Shag Bag
The biggest beneficiaries of Ryder Cup week are players at the bottom of the PGA Tour money list, guys like Gabriel Hjertstedt, who jumped from 226th to 84th with his one-shot victory over Andrew Magee, Chris Perry and Lee Rinker at the B.C. Open in Endicott, N.Y. Hjertstedt became the first Swede to win on Tour. Forty of the top 50 players on the money list skipped the tournament....
Mac O'Grady, making his first cut since 1995, finished 50th in Endicott. His take-home pay of $3,078 was only $866 less than his combined earnings during the previous three seasons....