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Major Change
Michael Bamberger
August 10, 1998
The du Maurier was a showcase for Brandie Burton and the new order on the LPGA tour
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August 10, 1998

Major Change

The du Maurier was a showcase for Brandie Burton and the new order on the LPGA tour

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At a glance, everything looks normal again on the LPGA tour. On Sunday in the fourth and final round of the fourth and final major of the season, Annika Sorenstam, the best woman golfer in the world, made up two shots on the leader but could not find a third and finished second at the du Maurier Classic, in Windsor, Ont. The winner, by a stroke, was Brandie Burton. She played the first three rounds at the Essex Golf & Country Club in 18 under par. Great stuff. On Sunday, Burton shot level par, 72, getting up and down from a washroom, the media center and a soft drink stand. O.K., that's an overstatement, but she made some lovely saves, eh? For her efforts she earned the biggest check of her career, $180,000 ( U.S.). Sorenstam had a nice payday, too, $111,711, and with her winnings the amiable Swede returned to the top of the money list. That's where she was at the end of last season. She led the money list in 1995, too. All is tidy and cozy again in the little world of ladies' pro golf, yes? No.

At the du Maurier, the LPGA entered its Se Ri Pak Era, named for the brilliant, stoic rookie from South Korea who is unaccustomed to Western mores and manners but whose talent is infecting everything connected with the women's tour. This includes Sorenstam's speech. Example: "I want to kick her butt." That is not a sentence one normally associates with Sorenstam, but that's what she said about the kid who has won four times this year, twice in majors. Pak, 20 years old and worn out from playing six consecutive weeks, sleepwalked through the du Maurier and finished 41st. Somehow, though, she was in everything. Everywhere you looked there were new sights to see, and Pak was responsible for all of them.

In last Thursday's long dusk, in a grassy park along the Detroit River, the extended Pak family—Se Ri, her parents and her beagle puppy, Happy, along with several Korean businessmen—ate a picnic dinner, takeout from a Korean restaurant. On Friday a Korean fan eager to see Pak walked across a fairway in the middle of play, oblivious to the rest of the tournament. On Saturday a writer from Newsweek sat on the grass beside the practice green and interviewed Jeff (Tree) Cable, Pak's gigantic caddie. On Sunday there were three dozen Korean sportscasters, reporters and cameramen on the course, documenting each of Pak's 73 strokes.

Golf is resistant to newcomers and new ways, and at the du Maurier, Sorenstam said publicly what some of her fellow tour players would say only to one another: "Se Ri is a great player, and she has brought a lot of people out here, but the only thing she's done for me is fire me up. I want to put her where she belongs. There are other players out here, and I'm one of them. She has some things to learn. She's driven, but also self-centered. Se Ri says she wants to be like Nancy Lopez, but the only way she will be like Nancy is in the records she sets."

There is, however, a golfer Pak shares much with: Tiger Woods. His very name implies so much change that some people in women's golf are afraid to even link it in a sentence with Se Ri, but the similarities between the two golfers are striking. For starters, both have Asian mothers and monomaniacal fathers. Woods's mother, Kultida, who is 54, was born and raised in Thailand and is a practicing Buddhist. Pak's mother, Jeong Sook, who is 45, was born and raised in South Korea and is also a practicing Buddhist. Both mothers taught their golfing children the central tenets of the religion—leading a disciplined, tranquil life in the hopes of finding a pathway to Nirvana.

As for the fathers—Earl Woods is 66, while Joon Chul Pak is 47—they are both former army men achieving something significant through the sporting accomplishments of their children. They're getting even. Earl Woods is getting even with every racist he encountered while trying to pursue the American dream. Joon Chul Pak is doing something equally difficult: He's reclaiming his family name. Over the course of last week's tournament, in interviews and in informal conversations, Pak and her parents and their friends and business associates told the Pak family history and, with it, the story of the education of a most unlikely golfer.

Se Ri, the middle of three daughters, grew up in Tae-jon, 100 miles south of Seoul. Taejon is a sprawling, crowded, industrial city with a reputation for corrupt politicians and lawless businessmen. In the 1980s Joon Chul ran a construction business by day and worked in the city's seamy nightclub business by night. He was what Koreans call a kkangpae, a hooligan. He helped friends get liquor licenses and get buildings built, by whatever means necessary. He was in fights and more than once woke up in jail, arrested for disor-derliness. He made money and, with it, enemies.

One night in 1988—at a time when Joon Chul was, he says, attempting to go straight—he was attacked by those enemies. A group of men jumped him and stabbed him repeatedly, in the head, the stomach and the thigh. He nearly died. The scars, gruesome, are still evident. He spent most of a year in a hospital while the rest of the family went to Hawaii, where Joon Chul's older brother lived. In his hospital bed, while recuperating, Joon Chul made two significant decisions: He made up his mind to become a Buddhist, and he vowed to devote himself to his family. When the family returned to Korea, Joon Chul, once a scratch golfer, put Se Ri's golf ahead of everything else.

To teach her discipline and to groove her swing, Pak had his daughter swing over and over without hitting a ball, sometimes 1,000 times, sometimes 2,000. To develop leg strength, he had her climb steps in 15-story buildings, descending backward to build up her hamstrings. He had her lift weights and do pull-ups and push-ups to develop upper-body strength. "A woman's breasts interfere with her swing," Joon Chul says, speaking through an interpreter. "By building muscles in her upper body, there would be less interference." In the summer Se Ri would hit balls in the sweltering humidity. In the winter she would run mountains in the unbearable cold, returning to the family's apartment with perspiration frozen on her clothes.

Teaching discipline is the central role of the father in traditional Korean family life, and that was the case in the Pak house. As a young girl, when Se Ri failed to obey her father, and that happened infrequently, she was struck with a small wooden stick called a pechori, common in Korean households. Se Ri received outward expressions of love from her mother. Her father made his love felt indirectly, but profoundly. One night, after Se Ri was struck with the pechori, Joon Chul came to her bed and put balm on his daughter's welts. Any Korean will tell you that this act from a father is exceptional. Se Ri, pretending to be asleep, wept with happiness. In Korea, there's a saying about the use of the pechori: The pain comes back to the father. "From me, Se Ri got her strength, she learned discipline," the father says. "From her mother, she received grace and wisdom."

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