Se Ri Pak's first win in three years was a reminder of the impact the Korean has had in her native land
Se Ri Pak watched Lorena Ochoa's farewell from the LPGA tour earlier this month and knew that she very well could have been in the same situation. Pak, like Ochoa, has long carried a nation's golfing identity on her shoulders, to the point that the stream of talent that followed her from South Korea to the U.S. is known back home as Se Ri's Kids.
The term hasn't always sat well with Pak, since it makes her sound like a golfer from the past instead of one who can still win tournaments.
"I'm very understanding [of Ochoa's retirement]," the 32-year-old Pak said last Friday, two days before winning for the 25th time in her Hall of Fame career, at the Bell Micro Classic in Mobile, her first victory in three years. "I was thinking that way too."
Sooner or later, Pak says, she will walk away from competitive golf and live a normal life, but her muscular effort on Sunday in a rain-shortened event gave her incentive to grind a little longer. In a sudden-death playoff against the tour leaders in driving distance (Brittany Lincicome, 273.5 yards) and scoring average (Suzann Pettersen, 69.83 strokes, and who with a victory would've replaced Jiyai Shin as the No. 1 player in the world), Pak outlasted both with the kind of shotmaking that once placed her in the conversation with Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb as the best golfers of the era. Playing the 18th hole for the third time, and standing in a fairway bunker wet from torrential rains, Pak laced a six-iron from 170 yards to 10 feet and rolled in the birdie putt, improving her playoff record to a spotless 6--0.
For a player who has experienced burnout at times since her groundbreaking playoff win at the 1998 U.S. Women's Open, Pak showed in her victory at the Crossings course at Magnolia Grove that there may be more to come. When Pak does leave the LPGA ("I mean, I really love to play golf, but not packing all the time," she says), she will be celebrated in Korea with the same appreciation that Ochoa was shown in Mexico.