My 2016 moment: Pak's retirement

By Randall MellDecember 23, 2016, 3:00 pm

You expect tears when great athletes say their run is over, when they step in front of cameras for the first time to announce they are going to retire.

Se Ri Pak didn’t cry in front of the cameras in Phoenix back in March when she made her announcement official on Golf Channel, nor did she cry when she stepped into the media center to detail her plans before a room full of reporters. She was strong.

When Pak left that news conference, I followed her out into a hallway. That’s where she let her guard down. It’s where I got to see how leaving the game would be like leaving a loved one. It’s where all the emotion she was holding back came leaking out one tear at a time.

It was in that hallway that Pak surprised me when I asked her about the ache she was feeling. Yes, she said, she was proud thinking back on all her achievements, of how she inspired a nation of more than young girls coming up in the game, but also show she inspired South Korean men and women who saw hope in her work ethic and determination. Yet, there in that hallway, she was also thinking about what she saw as her great failure, her great regret.

“I’m an incomplete person,” she told me there.

Pak stunned me detailing how she regretted missing out on so much of what life had to offer because of her unwavering devotion to becoming a champion.

“I took care of my golf,” she said. “I didn’t take care of myself. As a person, I don’t think I’m good. I’m not good enough.”

Mell: Pak ready to retire, start new chapter in life

Pak didn’t mean she was a “bad” person. She meant she was an unfulfilled one. She also revealed that she felt some guilt about the monster she created back in South Korea, the monster ambition and the monster work ethic that helped create so many more champion women golfers but also may be creating more incomplete young women.

It was such a ruthlessly honest admission, but in that admission I got to hear how Pak leaves the game full of new purpose.

“Life not all about winning, losing, practicing and then winning, losing, practicing,” Pak said. “It’s balance, feeling right balance. It’s practicing life. I’m still developing myself, and I’m so far behind.”

Pak said the next chapter of her life will be devoted to training young athletes in South Korea, but not just to become champions between the ropes. She wants to teach them to seek the fuller life she missed out on growing up. She believes her life will also become fuller, more complete, doing so.

Sean Pyun, the LPGA’s Korean-American managing director of International Business Affairs, stood there with me as I talked to Pak in that hallway. Later, he told me how his parents still have a photo of Pak in their living room.

“I don’t think they have a photo of me in there,” he cracked.

Pyun said he fought emotions listening to Pak, because his career was really built on a foundation she established. She meant so much to him.

“I wouldn’t be doing what I do if it wasn’t for Se Ri Pak,” Pyun told me that day. “I stood in the back of the room tonight realizing that I’ve never really thanked her for that.”

If Pak has her way, she’ll continue to find new ways to inspire young Koreans.

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.