Se Ri Pak wiped tears from her eyes leaving the 18th green Thursday at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea in what was celebrated as her final round as an LPGA player before retirement.
As planned, she withdrew from the event after a special ceremony on the 18th green honoring her remarkable career.
A long line of both Korean and American players waited to hug Pak after her round, including fellow Hall of Famer Inbee Park, who isn’t playing the event but attended to honor Pak. A video tribute to Pak was played on a giant screen at the 18th, which was packed by adoring fans. The Little Angels children’s choir sang.
“When I reached the 18th, I was on the tee box and I felt like I couldn't make the shot,” Pak said. “I think I cried all throughout the 18th hole.”
Pak shot 80, but her score wasn’t important to the fans who showed up to honor her for all she has done for the game. She inspired a generation of South Korean players to become the dominant force in the women’s golf with her victory at the U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run as an LPGA rookie back in 1998. It was the first of her 25 LPGA titles. She was the only South Korean playing the LPGA at the time. There are 34 South Koreans playing the tour today.
“Se Ri Pak definitely gave other Korean players confidence to go on to the LPGA,” said In Kyung Kim, who was tied for second behind American Alison Lee (65) after opening with a 68. “She was a pioneer in the LPGA for Korean players. I think right now we have so many Korean players on tour, but she was alone then. I have a lot of respect for her for achieving the success she has. So in that sense, I am immensely grateful for her.”
Pak, 39, was asked afterward how she felt about the Korean players she inspired being called “Se Ri’s Kids” and about their success.
“I think if we had no so-called Se Ri Kids, the Korean golf scene would be quite different today,” she said. “When my career started to take off, I really wanted it to start with me but not end with me. Fortunately, it will continue with the so-called Se Ri Kids.
“I hope the so-called Se Ri Kids continue on and inspire other younger kids to continue to lead Korean golf and act as a trigger to further develop Korean golf. I think one of my biggest dreams at this point is for the next generation of players to continue to do well and continue to develop Korean golf.”
Pak plans to build a sports program in South Korea and create a system for training athletes beyond athletic skill. She wants to train hearts, minds and souls, too. She wants to teach athletes to avoid the mistakes she made becoming too obsessed with training at the expense of developing herself as a total person.