Se Ris Successful Saga - Men Make Room


OK, lets get all the negatives out of the way at the start. The competition wasnt as good as the PGA Tour. The course wasnt particularly long. And, uh, whats a woman doing playing against the men, anyway - yada yada
Now, for the one enormous positive ' Se Ri Pak made the cut in a professional mens tournament. The pessimists will tsk tsk about the men who were playing in the SBS Super Tournament on the Korean tour ' they obviously werent that good, were they? The optimists will praise Pak all the way to the locker room, overjoyed that, for the first time since Babe Zaharias did it 58 years ago, a women has competed against the men and made the cut.
And she didnt just slide under the line. She made it with ease, standing just five shots off the lead on cut day Friday. Se Ri is so good.
I cant believe it ' did I really make it? asked a wide-eyed Pak when she finished her round.
While the feat doesnt compare to Annika Sorenstam challenging the men of the PGA Tour at Colonial, it nonetheless is a watershed mark in womens golf. The pressure in Korea was overwhelming for Pak, who faced the media onslaught head-on in her practice round and in both days of the competition. Pak, herself a Korean, is the most popular athlete in her country, in fact maybe the most popular person ' period.
The media circus surrounding Sorenstam in Fort Worth, of course, was unbelievable. Pak had the advantage of being in Asia away from the American press. But it was every bit as stifling for her in her native country.
Photographers proved a ever-present distraction. They were constantly moving back and forth, she told the Associated Press during her practice round Wednesday. It would be nice if they were a bit more careful.
Still, she survived the microscopic intrusions.
The past two days were one of the most difficult moments for me, she said. I felt heavily burdened and the past two days were the most difficult of my professional career. I am extremely happy now.
Paks 2-over 146, shot in blustery conditions with chilly temperatures, placed her 19th on the leaderboard out of 125 who teed who teed it up on Thursday. Sixty players make the cut.
Sorenstam, Jan Stephenson, Laura Davies and Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie were the others who have played against the men in this, the year of the Gender Challenges. Sorenstam and Whaley both played PGA Tour events. Stephenson played a Champions Tour event that didnt have a cut. Davies competed in a tournament in Asia and 13-year-old Wie played both on the Canadian Tour and the Nationwide Tour.
Pak exceeded all their accomplishments ' by a good margin. And she said the 7,052-yard course in Yongin, South Korea, favored the male players ' not her.
Because the fairways are wide and the course is short, I think its more advantageous to the men, she said, though the tournament leader at the halfway point ' Shin Yong-jin - disagreed.
I think the course was made to have Se Ri Pak make the cut, he said. I knew she would make the cut even before coming into the game.
Shin acknowledged, though, that Pak has the something extra that made her play a little better.
Theres something different about a world-class player, he said.
Pak is not a particularly long hitter, even by womens standards. She is 20th on the LPGA driving distance rankings with an average of 262.4 yards per poke. Sorenstam leads the women with an average of 271.2. But Pak is No. 2 on the LPGA money list, just behind Sorenstam.
The ultimate goal would be to have the PGA Tour become the best players in the world, not the best MEN in the world. Shin, who leads the Korean tour in earnings, feels the same way.
I dont see Paks play as a (gender) challenge, he told AP, but rather just as a player among professional players.
Pak would second that. She was quiet throughout the spring as Sorenstam prepared to play at Colonial, but finally she couldnt contain herself. She is anxious to see how she would do against the men in America.
My goal is to play against the men on the PGA Tour, she said.
If they invite me, I will jump at the chance. But I havent been invited yet.
Anyone out there interested? Now that the novelty has worn off and tournaments no longer will reap the huge public relations coup a la Sorenstam at Colonial, maybe its time to just see how a Pak could do as just another player, teeing it up on the PGA Tour.
Sorenstam doesnt seem interested any longer. But a certain Korean does, and she certainly showed this week that she can play with the men, even if it was in her native country.
Email your thoughts to George White