It was supposed to be the year when the young ones really broke out, the Paula Creamers, the Morgan Pressels, the Michelle Wies. Instead, what we got was a major surprise in the first major of the year, Karrie Webb winning. And now we get an even bigger surprise ' Se Ri Pak. Just dont tell me that Nancy Lopez is going to enter the U.S. Womens Open.
Here is a little indication of how bad it had been going for Se Ri: this year alone, in the first five tournaments she entered, she missed the cut twice, withdrew after the first round, finished tied for 41st and tied for 45th. You would have had to search awfully deep to find a reason to pick her for the championship at McDonalds, the second womens major of the season.
Last year? Forget it. It was a complete washout. She at various times tried to play with injuries to her neck, shoulder and lower back, and then a finger which led her to cancel the season at the Womens British Open. Her tally for the misbegotten year ' 12 tournaments, three missed cuts and two WDs, no finish higher than a T-27.
The problems really started in 2004. Though she says she wasnt injured at that time, the considerable price was weighing heavily on her. She was absolutely smothered by the attention the Koreans ' both the public and the press ' lavished on her. She grew to hate golf and the resulting chaos that accompanied her every move. She withdrew inside her own little world, drawing the cocoon tightly around her.
Pak had won 21 times in six years as 2004 began. May 9th of that year she won for the 22nd time, simultaneously earning enough credits for the World Golf Hall of Fame. But she immediately cratered, missing her next two cuts and then going a span of six tournaments when her highest finish was T-17. Alas, she had started sliding down the slippery slope, and she would have to hit the mud at the bottom before she could get to the point where she is today.
Sooner or later, I still work hard for my game and so I said, this game comes and goes, said Se Ri. Suddenly totally gone for like two years. And then it just came back for like a week. I mean, that's kind of, you know, that much difficult.
In case you dont understand perfectly good Korean-English, heres the translation: Suddenly the game is gone for two years. Then, it just came back this week. Thats difficult.
From the shy girl who spoke nothing but Korean when she came to the U.S., to a disturbed young woman who just knew that there had to be more to life than golf, to this charming lady who now speaks English well enough to be understood, Se Ri has been to the end of the road and back. The stories of the attempts her strong-willed father took to make her mentally tough are legend now making her sleep in the graveyard when she was still a young teen-ager, running the stairs backwards numerous times to build up her legs. And her brain finally short-circuited, which was altogether understandable.
So now the tendency is to look at Se Ri and consider the careers of Hillary Lunke and Birdie Kim, who have won two of the last three U.S. Opens. Both slid back into mediocrity almost as quickly as they achieved the pinnacle. Could this happen to Pak?
You never know, of course. But Se Ri is a little different ' she has had it, then she lost it, now she has a chance to have it again. And this time, she wont have quite the crush of attention from the Far East. When she first appeared on the womens scene, she was the only Korean. Now she is one of 32 n the LPGA Tour. And already this year there have been six different Korean winners. The odds have to be greatly in her favor.
Sounds a lot like the Karrie Webb story.
I know how she feels, said a knowing Se Ri. Then, with the quote altered somewhat to make her meaning clear ' For eight years (her previous time on the tour) I cant even remember one tournament to the next, despite all the success Ive had. But I just remember all starting this year, every tee shot and every week, every each day - which I really appreciate for my comeback.
She couldnt even touch a golf club at one point last year, she says ' thats how far her disenchantment with the game and her injuries had gone. She took four months off after the Womens British Open the end of July. What did she do during those four months?
I saw my friends, hanging out with a friend every day and I made some new friends, she said, sounding more like any woman would do who suddenly finds herself out from under an onerously heavy burden of carrying the flag for an entire country.
It's no more - like it's like a more comfortable life, said Se Ri, not thinking about practice next day, thinking about the play next morning and stuff like that.
All I need is some kind of very normal life for me, just being like see the friends or not think about the golf and then do something else without, you know, go out and see my coach and stuff like that. So that makes me a big difference.
Her finger and the assorted other ailments have healed completely. At 28, she has finally gotten the time to get completely away from golf. Its OK if she doesnt play this game, she found out. And now that she doesnt feel as though she HAS to play, now that an entire country isnt fawning over her every move ' she suddenly finds that golf is really OK.
I'm very happy to be back again, she bubbled. I'm very excited to play back in the golf again. And I really enjoyed it outside the golf course and everything.
I'm a very lucky person. The way I am loving this, so much love with my game and I'm still playing golf which is, I'm very lucky.
So I really am (as happy a) person as Ive ever been, and Im very having fun on the golf course ever been. So this year no matter what, I'm still trying to play best as I can and trying to have some more fun out there.
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