Mickey Walker: Se Ri Pak a true legend
Se Ri Pak played her final competitive round in front of her adoring home fans a few weeks ago. In today’s modern world in which the media is prone to over hyping a sportsperson’s talent or influence on their respective sport, in the case of Se Ri the statement that she single-handedly changed women’s golf in South Korea is beyond dispute.
Having turned professional to play on the Korean LPGA Tour in 1996, Pak won six tournaments that year and a further six the following year before qualifying for her LPGA Tour card in 1998.
Se Ri’s rookie year was nothing short of sensational when she would claim her first Major win in the US Women’s Open at the 20th hole in a playoff with the amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn and then just six weeks later win her second – the LPGA Championship.
What was even more remarkable was the manner of how she got into the playoff. Having hooked her drive into a water hazard, she successful played out of it to par the hole and force a play-off. A statue of Se Ri playing that memorable shot is immortalised outside of Gwangju’s stadium in Korea.
It also formed the basis for the first ever episode of ‘Birdie Buddy’ – a long-running show on Korean TV. The US Open victory was named by the Korean Times as the third most acclaimed moment in sport in the previous 60 years.
Before taking up golf at the age of 14 Pak had been a track star, breaking the 13-second barrier in the 100-metre sprint. Introduced to golf by her father, a former professional baseball player and a hard taskmaster, getting Se Ri to train by running up and down the 15 flights of stairs in their high-rise apartment and getting her to work out without shoes when snow was on the ground.
Her upbringing and training regime made competing on the professional tours seem easy in comparison and would set the standards that would be the basis of her success.
In a vicarious way I can claim to have had some input into Se Ri’s success, as she employed my former caddy Jeff ‘Tree’ Cable. Jeff first caddied for me in the late 70s when we had a tournament in Birmingham, Alabama. At that time Jeff was on a basketball scholarship at the University of Alabama and fancied having a go at caddying.
We got along really well and made an agreement that he would caddy for me during his summer vacation. When he graduated from college this became a permanent job and he caddied for me full time until I returned to play on the fledgling Women’s Tour in Britain in the early 80s.
Jeff, or Tree as he was known because he was 6’11”, continued to caddy on the LPGA Tour and got lucky when he was chosen as part of her team just weeks before her Open win. Jeff would go on to caddy for her in four of her five Major victories. I must have trained him well!
In 2008, Se Ri Pak was described by US Golf World writer Eric Adelson as “a pioneer who changed the face of golf more than Tiger Woods”.
And the facts back that up. In 1998, she was the only Korean on the LPGA Tour, and 10 years later there were 45 players playing on the LPGA. Today, six of the top 10 players in the world are Korean. All of these achievements by Korean players have been inspired by one person – Se Ri Pak.
When you think that 12 of the last 24 women’s Majors, literally 50 per cent, have been won by Koreans. That is absolutely extraordinary. Earlier this year Inbee Park became the second Korean to be inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame.
Inbee’s seven Major victories have eclipsed Se Ri Pak’s five but no-one will ever have the impact on Korean and women’s golf globally that Se Ri had. Along with her millions of fans around the world, I wish her a well deserved and happy retirement from competitive golf.
Lady Golfer’s consulting editor captained Europe in the first four Solheim Cups. She regularly appears on Sky Sports as an expert summariser