Game Changer


Look at what Se Ri Pak’s wrought.

Her gifts soar beyond ability to that special place where few golfers dwell.

She ranks among the most influential players the game’s ever known.
Se Ri Pak
Se Ri Pak earned her 25th LPGA victory at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic. (Getty Images)
Like Francis Ouimet and Arnold Palmer, her legacy will be about so much more than winning tournaments. It will be about winning hearts and minds. It will be about how her triumphs sparked an intense new wave of interest in the game. Like Ouimet and Palmer, the timing of her emergence changed the nature of the game.

We were reminded of that after Pak poured in a 10-foot birdie putt in the rain Sunday to win the Bell Micro LPGA Classic in a playoff, defeating Brittany Lincicome and Suzann Pettersen in the rain-shortened event at Magnolia Grove on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Mobile, Ala.

We were reminded with so many South Koreans dancing after Pak in the victory celebration to shower her in champagne and beer.

We were reminded when fellow countrywoman Jiyai Shin locked Pak in an emotional hug and wouldn’t let go afterward.

Shin, the No. 1 player in the world, declined to leave for the airport after the event was shortened to 54 holes because of bad weather. She stayed to cheer on Pak in the playoff.

Two weeks ago, Shin rose to the top of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. She is among that amazing brood known in South Korea as Se Ri’s Kids.

“I’m single, but how many kids do I have?” Pak joked after she won Sunday’s playoff on the third extra hole. “I feel very, very proud of that. They give me a lot of energy. They keep me playing.”

Shin may be the first player of that nation to rise to No. 1, but she’ll tell you that Pak will always rule supreme in their homeland.

“Jiyai’s always said that I’m her idol, and that she played golf because of me,” Pak said in a telephone interview after Sunday’s victory. “I’m very thankful to share the victory with her and the other players from South Korea.”

Pak’s place in history isn’t fully appreciated outside her homeland because she’s just 32 and the history she’s shaping is still a work in remarkable progress, but she reminded us Sunday how this change she initiated keeps gaining momentum.

Pak's story is well told, how she was the only South Korean playing full time on the LPGA when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 at Blackwolf Run. That victory was a seed. Forty-five South Koreans are tour members this year.

Shin is among 34 South Koreans ranked among the top 100 in the world.

No other country’s close.

The United States features 21, Japan 20.

Pak’s victory Sunday was the 13th by a South Korean since the start of the ’09 season, twice as many victories as any other nation.  

First and foremost, Pak’s an inspiration, and the emphasis here is on the present tense.

Out of soggy sand in a soaked fairway bunker Sunday, Pak hit a 6-iron from 171 yards to 10 feet. That set up her winning birdie, a putt made tougher after Lincicome holed a clutch 25-foot putt to save par.

Pak’s victory improved her record to 6-0 in playoffs. She seems able to conjure her best under playoff pressure. She beat Jenny Chuasiriporn in a 20-hole playoff at the U.S. Women’s Open in ’98. She beat Karrie Webb on the first extra hole at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship in ’06 nearly holing out a hybrid 4-iron, a shot that ranks among the best under pressure in major championship history.

Sunday’s victory was Pak’s 25th LPGA title, but her first in 56 starts, since she won the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic almost three years ago.

“I’m a new person, a new player,” Pak said after her victory. “I’ve got a new attitude.

“I think I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself. I’m going to be calmer, more positive. If I miss a shot, it’s over and I move on.”

The new Se Ri Pak hopes to do what the old one always did.

She hopes to keep inspiring greatness.