Se Ri Pak Led Korean Golf to Full Maturity
I was certainly asleep at the wheel about Se Ri Pak. Since my mind told me that South Korean golf just arrived a few years ago at most, the subconscious began to believe it. When it did arrive (earlier than that), I didn’t really know who anyone was, and it took me a little time to get acquainted with the greats, mostly because there were so many. I certainly never would have believed that it was time to say goodbyye to any of them, having so recently gotten here. But it’s true, Se Ri Pak is leaving golf. She’s hurt, and can’t physically respond the way she once could, but I have never forgotten about that “once could” part.
We’ve been taught in recent weeks that there are several types of farewells when our greatest sportsmen and sportswomen leave us. In Arnold Palmer’s case, it’s because the golf world loved him, and had for so many years. Then there’s the kind of goodbye where a player just loses his stuff, but fights it off with everything he’s got – as in Tiger Wood’s case. There’s the absence of Lorena Ochoa, who simply made the decision to enjoy other parts of life – and then there’s Se Ri Pak. Each one of these cases hits me differently. The loss of Palmer was devastating, even though it was clearly coming. The impending loss of Tiger is filled with anxiety as he frets through the process to find his way back, Father Time making it as hard as possible for him. Lorena Ochoa’s decision required some maturity on the spectator’s part, some sort of quiet agreement that golf isn’t the sum total of life, and that there are other experiences worth pursuing. For an avid golfer who sees a great player, that’s a tough one to digest, but it’s true nonetheless. Lorena was growing up and we had to also.
Se Ri Pak, however, is a little different from any of them. She warned us in the past few months that she was leaving soon, but it escaped my mind as other things took up space. After all, she’s only 39. People play great golf at 39, but not with a bum arm or shoulder. Even though I completely got the date of her arrival wrong, I’m recalibrating, and can remember some of her finest moments. As a result, her departure leaves me with a feeling of gratitude for the way she promoted the game to the women of her country, and a feeling of warmth for her time as a fine, honorable, competitor.
Pak was no journeywoman, certainly, and she got started fast. Overall, she won 25 LPGA titles, and 5 majors. Two of them she won in her rookie season, including an insane 92 hole U.S. Women’s Open in playoff hell. One writer reminds us of the “Pak-mania” that exploded in 1998. And then suddenly, she was the elder stateswoman of Korean golf. At the LPGA HanaBank Championship in Korea this month, she struggled into the 18th green on her way to a round of 80 – and nobody cared. She left a wedge short, and nobody cared, and she apparently hurt like crazy. That’s not why she was crying all the way down 18, though. A celebration awaited her at the round’s end, including a choir singing in tribute. As an observer, I was taken very suddenly from “Who are these people?” to being a fellow-celebrator.
“Goodbye” is so tricky, sometimes excruciating – and the worst part of it is that there are so many different kinds. They all entail loss, but we knew we didn’t get to keep these stars permanently going in. Somehow that doesn’t help, but it’s still so. Regardless, a whole new generation of Korean golfers on the LPGA tour will look to Se Ri Pak as a founding ancestorm abd in that way, we know that she isn’t really done after all.