Pak's win 14 years ago at U.S. Women's Open inspired other South Koreans
When she outdueled American amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn in a 20-hole Monday playoff in the 1998 U.S. Women's Open, Se Ri Pak inspired a nation of girls to follow her example.
Fourteen years later, 10 players from South Korea are ranked in the top 25 in the world compared with seven for the United States. Over the last seven years, four different players from South Korea have captured the U.S. Women's Open compared with two from America.
When the Open returns Thursday to the scene of Pak's triumph, Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin, it's a reminder of how much the LPGA has been transformed.
|U.S. Women's Open|
|When » Thursday-Sunday|
|Where » Blackwolf Run,|
|TV » ESPN2/NBC|
"I think I actually opened the door for them," Pak told reporters Tuesday. "I gave them more confidence about their move forward."
When Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters, it was widely speculated that a surge of black golfers would follow. But 15 years later, Woods remains the lone black man on the PGA Tour.
Pak, however, has led a stampede. So Yeon Ryu was a 7-year-old violin player when Pak won the LPGA Championship in 1998, becoming the first woman from Asia to capture a major, then followed seven weeks later with her Open victory.
"She's my hero," Ryu said. "At that moment, golf [was] my hobby and violin my dream. But now violin is my hobby; golf is my dream."
Last year when she won the Open, Ryu did it in a playoff over South Korean Hee Kyung Seo. All seven of the South Koreans who have won majors after Pak have been between the ages of 19 and 25. None has won more than one. Maybe it's because the competition from other Koreans is so fierce. Of the seven South Koreans ranked in the top 16, six are still seeking their first major.
Seven-time major champion Juli Inkster of the United States believes South Koreans have emerged because of their singular focus.
"When I was raising my kids, I had them in ballet, dance, music, sports. They were in everything," Inkster said. "Over there if you play golf, you play golf. That's what you do. And you do it all day. And whether that's right or wrong or indifferent or whatever, that's just the way they are brought up."
Many Korean players have similar strengths, favoring accuracy over length. While 13 Koreans rank in the top 20 in putting average, only two rank in the top 20 in driving distance. This is the skill set tailor-made for the penal setups and fast greens of the U.S. Open. Don't be surprised to see a leader board full of Koreans this weekend.
"Technically they are brought up very sound. They just go to the driving range and they hit balls. And they hit balls and they hit balls. And their swings are perfect," Inkster said. "They're just great golfers. That's what they do."