SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Se Ri Pak left the 18th green Friday at the U.S. Women’s Open with tears streaming down her face.
Powerful feelings overwhelmed her as she left this stage that has meant so much to her for the final time.
“So much emotion going on in my mind right now,” Pak said.
Pak inspired a nation of South Korean girls to grow into the most dominant force in women’s golf with her victory at the U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in 1998. In this her last season before retirement, Pak played this week on a special USGA exemption. After tapping in at the last, knowing she was going to miss the cut, the weight of the moment hit her hard.
“I thought I was going to be OK, but I wasn’t,” she said.
Pak, 38, wasn’t alone crying in the end.
“When I saw her crying, tears started coming out of my eyes, too,” said Na Yeon Choi, who joined So Yeon Ryu playing alongside Pak in the first two rounds. “I remembered back to how I started golf, and how all of us Korean players were inspired by her. She gave us a big dream, opening the door for us. I was reminded of everything right there, but it wasn’t really sad. It was a good moment, I think.”
Ryu and Choi are among a legion of young South Korean golfers called “Se Ri’s kids” because Pak inspired them with her U.S. Women’s Open victory.
“It was the first tournament I ever watched on TV, and Se Ri won it,” Ryu said of Pak’s victory at Blackwolf Run. “Se Ri and the U.S. Women’s Open will always be special because of that for me.”
Ryu won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2011 and Choi won it the year after.
Pak missed a 3-footer at the last on Friday to make a closing double bogey. She shot 80, but those numbers will be forgotten quickly. What Pak created beyond sport in South Korea, winning 25 LPGA titles, five of them majors, won’t be forgotten.
It was late in the day when Pak finished, with the sun sinking, and there weren’t many fans left in the bleachers, maybe a couple dozen, but there were USGA officials lining up to hug Pak. Hall of Famer Karrie Webb was waiting to hug Pak, too. So was Christina Kim.
“I’m just the luckiest person in the world,” Pak said.