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.”
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.