Se Ri Comes of Age

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It was in 1998 that Se Ri Pak, a 20-year-old rookie on the LPGA Tour, won the U.S. Open. Se Ri outlasted an amateur, Jenny Chuasiriporn, in a Monday playoff that everyone felt was the future of womens golf.
 
Pak was a young women from South Korea, Chuasiriporn was a Duke University athlete. Surely they would be around for many, many years.
 
Well, Chuasiriporn is out of competitive golf completely now. And Pak hit rock bottom for a couple of years before rebounding to win the McDonalds LPGA Championship this month. Obviously the two didnt keep their date for their future matches.
 
I still remember that, laughed Se Ri. I cant forget about that moment ' playoff.
 
The USGA has put itself in a position of possibly playing again on Monday when Thursday play was completely postponed by a day-long fog which blanketed the Newport Country Club. Plans are to play single rounds Friday and Saturday ' the field of 156 is too large to get them around for more than one round a day. Play is scheduled to wrap up on Sunday with a 36-hole finale ' IF there are no more weather glitches.
 
In 98, though, Pak was still feeling her way around the U.S., trying to learn English and the many, many differences in the two cultures. She was the first Korean to make the big leap ' there was no other trail blazer such as the approximately 60 Koreans have now as they professional golf in the U.S. They are scattered throughout the LPGA and the Duramed Futures Tour. But in 1998, there was one ' Se Ri Pak.
 
And she was in a playoff to determine the champion of the United States Womens Open.
 
Me and Jenny, we just had so much fun out there, same age at the same time and so many galleries following us on a Monday - which I thought was very impressive, she said. I know at a playoff in a U.S. Open you have so many galleries, but Monday, unbelievable. It's the first time I ever saw that many people out there.
 
Pak has lived in Orlando since 98 and makes only an occasional trip back to South Korea. Her English has improved to the point where she converses with the media in a totally confident manner. She has confidence that she can make it in her adopted country. That summer day at the Open convinced her that, if nothing else, she certainly had the golfing skills necessary to play the best in the world.
 
I mean, after LPGA and then after the U.S. Open, after that, I got so much confidence, Se Ri said. I don't know if my game (was) already that good, I'm not sure I can guarantee that. But I feel just personally I had so much confidence in myself every week I played. I got so much confidence after winning the U.S. Open.
 
After that, that was a great success because mentally, physically it helped me. I just really had nothing to lose out there. I felt so good, so strong, I felt like my game was right there. I can't tell my game 100 percent, but I know my mind, every single time I was ready.
 
But alas, she had several celebrated occasions with a fawning Korean media that nearly drove her off the tour. Se Ri was such an overwhelming story with her success in the U.S. that the press was suffocating her with their attention.
 
Everyone had so much high expectation for me seems like I always used to be up at the top there. Because people are so much used to it, and I never had a problem before, she said.
 
Like I said, people never realize that the game of golf is just not easy. They don't know how much I work for it, how much time I spend at the golf course and practicing a lot and trying to play the best I can. Every single time it's the same routine, and I'm doing so well for it. People are pretty much used to it being that way, seeing me on TV, seeing me on the leaderboard and they're seeing always I'm winning the tournament. Everyone had pretty much high expectation for Se Ri, which they're never thinking I'm going to be going the other way.

But I am a human being, too. Now they realize it, and every single time, now every year seems like we have more Korean players doing well and now it's just a lot more comfortable, like they are sharing all the pressure together.

I'm still there, (they) love to see me up there doing well. The last two years I had such a hard time for all the media attention. It's not easy for me to accept it. But now I know I have so much fans out there no matter if I play good or not, just always seeing me out here and playing, that kept me from giving up on my game.
 
Shes 29 years old now, and it hardly seems possibly that Se Ri is almost middle-age, golfing-wise. But it all began when she won that U.S. Womens Open. And two years of up-and-down golf have matured her into a woman.
 
The last two years have been a perfect time for me to step up one level, which is great for me, she said. I mean, (its) not easy, but I think its a perfect time for me to see.