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Se Ri's Sorrows
Yes, she was happy. Yes, her swing was fine. No, she was not worried about her play. Se Ri Pak insisted that all this was true even as her eyes welled with tears.
After a second-round 74 in last week's Standard Register Ping in Phoenix, Pak signed her scorecard, then a dozen autographs. "Good luck on Saturday and Sunday," said one well-intentioned woman. Sorry, lady. With a two-day total of 148, last year's LPGA rookie of the year missed the cut.
After a 1998 marked by stunning victories, followed by highly public breakups with her manager, Steven Kil, and coach, David Leadbetter, Pak was determined to make more time for herself this year. In that, she has succeeded. After missing one cut in 27 starts in '98, she has missed three in seven tournaments this season, depressing her income but freeing up her weekends.
What ails the erstwhile South Korean sensation? "Her swing is fine," says her friend, chauffeur and caddie, the 6'5" Jeff (Tree) Cable, swatting away the notion that Pak misses Leadbetter. Others aren't so sure. "I don't know," says Annika Sorenstam. "Whatever they were doing, it seemed to be working."
Pale's struggles come as no surprise to Sorenstam. Like Pak, Sorenstam got her first career win in a major. Unlike Pak, she says, "I did not have this huge sponsor putting all this pressure on me. She's 21, and they treat her like a machine."
This is a dig at Samsung, which last season forced Pak to keep an inhuman schedule of appearances. ( Pak jumped to IMG in January.) She rebelled by cutting back on practice time and conditioning. She also began dating a student at Leadbetter's Orlando academy, a fellow South Korean who has joined her on the tour. It's been suggested by the South Korean media that this has contributed to her slow start, a claim that infuriates Pak. "What do they think? That when I play golf, I think about my boyfriend? I have to have my life!"
"She works so hard," says Nancy Lopez, Pale's self-appointed den mother on tour, "but [South Korean reporters] write negative stuff because she doesn't shoot under par every day. Her parents read it, get upset and call her."
Is Pak practicing as much as she used to? After Thursday's 74, she spent an hour and 45 minutes on the range, but for an hour of that time she was on a cell phone, talking to her father. Friday, after missing the cut, Pak blinked back tears as she spoke of her quest to find balance in her life. "I know in my country, people are happy when I play good," she said. "I want to make them happy, but I want to be happy, too."