Pak Already Standing at Hall of Fame Doors

By Associated PressNovember 10, 2007, 5:00 pm
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Se Ri Pak presided over a table of 10 at a Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas, ordering all the food and making sure everyone had enough to eat. When the fortune cookies arrived, she cracked hers open and read it slowly and softly in her halting English.
'You will lose the small ones, but win the big treasure,' she said.
After taking a second to let it soak in, Pak looked up at her guests with a smile that could light up the Strip.
Se Ri Pak
Se Ri Pak has had plenty to celebrate in her now Hall of Fame career.
'Tonight,' she said, 'we go to casino.'
Chairs were pushed back in unison, laughter filled the air and her entourage followed her out the door and across the street to the blackjack tables. It was her second year on the LPGA Tour, and Pak already had quite a following.
It turned out to be greater than she ever imagined.
Pak will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday night on her record alone. The LPGA Tour uses a strict system of points, and the 30-year-old from South Korea reached that level three years ago.
She won five majors, two of them during a rookie season in 1998 that gave women's golf its biggest boost since Nancy Lopez. She picked up her 24th career victory earlier this year. She was so good so young that Pak will be the youngest player to be inducted.
Her legacy, however, will be as a pioneer who inspired a nation.
Pak was not the first South Korean to play or win on the LPGA Tour, but her success served as a catalyst for more young players to believe they could compete on the strongest circuit in women's golf.
She was among three South Koreans as a rookie. Ten years later, the LPGA Tour has 45 players from South Korea, which accounts for 38 percent of the LPGA population.
They aren't just here, they are winning. Three others have won majors (Grace Park, Birdie Kim, Jeong Jang), and four others have followed Pak as the LPGA rookie of the year.
'It's a lot of pressure on me, because I'm the big sister for them,' Pak said earlier this year. 'And probably because of that, I'm a role model for them. So I have to show them the way. But now, they are already good enough and they all work so hard. And so I'm very proud of it. And I'm proud for myself and proud of them, and I stand beside them.'
And they stand behind her on just about every occasion.
The last requirement for Pak to qualify for the Hall of Fame was 10 full seasons on the LPGA Tour, and she reached that at the McDonald's LPGA Championship in early June. Organizers staged a news conference after the first round at Bulle Rock, complete with a cake, and Pak was stunned to see a dozen South Korean players in the back of the room.
'She set the standard for the Korean gals,' Juli Inkster said. 'All the Korean gals look up to her, how she lives. I don't think that was her plan. She was just so successful.'
At the Kraft Nabisco Championship this year, where Pak was in contention on the weekend as she tried to complete the career Grand Slam, among those in her gallery was Birdie Kim, who had missed the cut.
No other South Korean had won a major until Kim holed out a 90-foot bunker shot on the final hole at Cherry Hills in 2005 to capture the U.S. Women's Open. She made it clear that day Pak was, and always will be, her idol.
'I met her eight years ago when I was young, like middle school student, and at that time she was very big player in Korea,' Kim said. 'So me, just I follow her always, watching her, always try to keep close, play like her. We have really good player like Se Ri Pak, everybody follow her. That's why we can make it more easier.'
Pak will be inducted along with two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, U.S. Open and PGA champion Hubert Green, former British Open champion Kel Nagle of Australia and three-time British Amateur champion Joe Carr of Ireland.
It wasn't always easy for Pak.
There were stories about how her father made her spend the night in a cemetery to improve her mental toughness, and walk up stairs backward to strengthen her legs. Having already won 30 times before turning pro at 18, then finishing no worse than second in 13 out of 14 events, she qualified for the LPGA Tour on her first attempt.
In her first tournament as a rookie, Pak was paired with Kelli Kuehne, who had turned pro with great fanfare and a big Nike contract. Pak wasn't a total unknown. Laura Davies had seen Pak play, and she placed a bet on Pak winning her rookie debut when she learned the odds were 66-to-1.
Jim Ritts, the LPGA Tour commissioner during Pak's rookie season, also knew something about her. He was at the Samsung World Championship in Korea in 1996 when Pak was 19 and received a sponsor's exemption. She finished third behind Annika Sorenstam.
'My first impression was how I felt about Ernie Els,' Ritts said. 'Here was a person who was clearly a gifted athlete and could have chosen to be a star in various sports, and yet she chose golf. I could never have predicted what she was going to do. She didn't speak much English, but she had such joy on the golf course. It was extraordinary to watch.'
But it came at a price.
'Pak-mania' ruled in the summer of '98, especially after she won the U.S. Women's Open at Blackwolf Run in a 20-hole playoff against amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn. Press centers were packed with South Korean media, as many as 70 reporters and photographers. It was pure chaos inside the ropes. When she returned to South Korea that fall, she had to be hospitalized for exhaustion.
Television cameras even came into her hospital room to give the latest news.
'She started out as a raw talent, a great ball-striker, very robotic with a flawless swing,' Inkster said. 'When she was in her prime, she was the best. But the thing about Se Ri is she played because that's what she did, not that she really loved the game.'
That showed when Pak went into a deep slump brought on by burnout. She plummeted to 102nd on the money list with not so much as a top 10 in 2005, eventually taking the rest of the year off to cope with injuries. But she slowly seized control of her life, and returned in 2006 with a smile bigger than ever.
She added another major, nearly holing out with a 4-iron hybrid in a playoff against Webb in the LPGA Championship, leaping into the arms of her caddie in sheer exultation.
'First time I jump on the golf course,' Pak said.
The number of South Koreans keeps growing, most if not all pointing to 'big sister' Pak as their inspiration. The pinnacle for Pak comes at the World Golf Village on Monday night when she will be the first South Korean to be inducted.
'In a way, being first means that I am a pioneer for my country,' she said. 'And it makes me proud.'
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After Further Review: Spieth needs a break

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 1:11 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Jordan Spieth's much-needed break ...

Jordan Spieth is heading for a break, and that’s probably a good thing.

Spieth just wrapped a run of six events in seven weeks that featured largely underwhelming results. A third-place finish at the Masters that stemmed from a nearly-historic final round deflects attention away from the fact that Spieth has yet to enter a final round this year less than six shots off the lead.

A return to his home state didn’t work, nor did a fight against par at Shinnecock or a title defense outside Hartford where everything went so well a year ago. His putting woes appear to have bottomed out, as Spieth finished 21st in putting at Travelers, but now the alignment issue that plagued his putting appears to have bled into other parts of his game.

So heading into another title defense next month at Carnoustie, Spieth plans to take some time off and re-evaluate. Given how fast things turned around last summer, that might prove to be just what he needs. - Will Gray

On the difference between this week and last week ...

There wasn’t a single outraged tweet, not a lone voice of descent on social media following Bubba Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, a 17-under par masterpiece that included a closing loop of 30.

Nobody declared that golf was broken, no one proclaimed the royal and ancient game a victim of technology and the age of uber athletes. The only response was appreciation for what Watson, a bomber in the truest form, was able to accomplish.

At 6,840 yards, TPC River Highlands was built for fun, not speed. Without wild weather or ill-advised hole locations and greens baked to extinction, this is what the best players in the game do, and yet no one seemed outraged. Weird. - Rex Hoggard

On the emergence of another LPGA phenom ...

Add another young star to the favorites list heading to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago next week.

Nasa Hataoka, the 19-year-old Japanese standout who needed her rookie season last year to acclimate to the LPGA, broke through for her first LPGA title Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

This wasn’t a surprise to LPGA followers. Hataoka won the Japan Women’s Open when she was 17, the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour, and she has been trending up this year.

Her tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago was her fourth consecutive top-10 finish. She won going away in Arkansas, beating a deep field that included the top nine in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She outplayed world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and No. 3 Lexi Thompson on Sunday. - Randall Mell

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Bubba waiting for Furyk's text about Ryder Cup

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:39 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – After winning his third PGA Tour title in the span of five months, Bubba Watson is now waiting by his phone.

Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, his third at TPC River Highlands since 2010, accompanies recent victories at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from earlier this year. It also moved the southpaw from No. 7 to No. 5 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically.

After serving as an assistant captain at Hazeltine despite ranking No. 7 in the world at the time, Watson made it clear that he hopes to have removed any doubt about returning to the role of player when the biennial matches head to Paris this fall.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It still says in my phone that (U.S. captain) Jim (Furyk) hasn’t texted me yet. So I’d really like for him to say I’m going to pick you no matter what,” Watson said. “The motivation is I’ve never won a Ryder Cup, so making the Ryder Cup team and trying to win a Ryder Cup as a player would be another tournament victory to me. It would be a major championship to me just because I’ve never done it, been a part of it.”

Watson turns 40 in November, and while he reiterated that his playing career might not extend too far into the future as he looks to spend more time at home with son Caleb and daughter Dakota, he’s also hoping to make an Olympic return in Tokyo in 2020 after representing the U.S. in Rio two years ago.

“Talking about the Olympics coming up, that’s motivating me,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life to watch all the other events, and then the golf tournament got in the way. I’d love to do it again. I’d love to watch all the events and then have to play golf as well.”

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Casey comes up short (again) to Bubba at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:07 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Staked to a four-shot lead entering the final round of the Travelers Championship, Paul Casey watched his opening tee shot bounce off a wooden wall and back into the middle of the fairway, then rolled in a 21-foot birdie putt off the fringe.

At the time, it appeared to be a not-so-subtle indicator that Casey was finally going to get his hands on a trophy that has barely eluded him in the past. Instead it turned out to be the lone highlight of a miserable round that left the Englishman behind only Bubba Watson at TPC River Highlands for the second time in the last four years.

Casey shot the low round of the tournament with a third-round 62 that distanced him from the field, but that opening birdie turned out to be his only one of the day as he stalled out and ultimately finished three shots behind Watson, to whom he lost here in a playoff in 2015.

Casey’s score was 10 shots worse than Saturday, as a 2-over 72 beat only five people among the 73 others to play the final round.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I mean, I fought as hard as I could, which I’m proud of,” Casey said. “Not many times you put me on a golf course and I only make one birdie. I don’t know. I’d be frustrated with that in last week’s event, but it is what it is.”

Casey led by as many as five after his opening birdie, but he needed to make a 28-foot par save on No. 10 simply to maintain a one-shot edge over a hard-charging Watson. The two men were tied as Casey headed to the 16th tee, but his bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 combined with a closing birdie from Watson meant the tournament was out of reach before Casey even reached the final tee.

Casey explained that a “bad night of sleep” led to some neck pain that affected his warm-up session but didn’t impact the actual round.

“Just frustrating I didn’t have more,” he said. “Didn’t have a comfortable swing to go out there and do something with.”

Casey won earlier this year at the Valspar Championship to end a PGA Tour victory drought that dated back to 2009, but after being denied a second victory in short succession when he appeared to have one hand on the trophy, he hopes to turn frustration into further success before turning the page to 2019.

“I’m probably even more fired up than I was post-Tampa to get another victory. This is only going to be more fuel,” Casey said. “I’ve got 12 events or something the rest of the year. So ask me again in November, and if I don’t have another victory, then I will be disappointed. This is merely kind of posturing for what could be a very good climax.”

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Bubba thrives in his comfort zone

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:02 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – The 1:20 p.m. pairing Sunday at TPC River Highlands spanned the spectrum on the PGA Tour. In one corner stood science. Bryson DeChambeau, whose quantitative approach to golf seemingly knows no bounds, was looking to add another victory after winning a playoff earlier this month at Jack’s Place.

On the other side was art.

Bubba Watson doesn’t float golf balls in Epsom salt to identify minor imperfections. He doesn’t break out a compass to find the slightest errors in the Tour-supplied pin sheet. Even when he texts caddie Ted Scott, he prefers to use voice text rather than rely on his admittedly sub-optimal spelling.

But strolling along one of his favorite landscapes, Bubba the artist came out on top. Again.

Watson is in the midst of a resurgent season, one that already included a third victory at one of his favorite haunts in Riviera Country Club. It featured a decisive run through the bracket at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and a return to the leaderboards at Augusta National where he fell short of a third green jacket.

It only makes sense, then, that he’d build upon that burgeoning momentum at the Travelers Championship, where he earned his first PGA Tour victory in 2010 and Sunday joined Billy Casper as the tournament’s only three-time champ with a final-round 63 to catch and pass Paul Casey.

This is a place where Watson can bomb drives by feel and carve short irons at will, and one where he officially put his stamp on the best season to date on Tour.

“His hand-eye coordination is by far one of the best I’ve ever seen,” DeChambeau said. “You’ve got me who was just struggling off the tee, and he’s just swiping shots down there. It was cool to watch. I wish I could do that. I probably could do that, but I just don’t feel like I’d be as consistent as he is.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Consistency wasn’t an apt descriptor a year ago, as Watson went from two-time major champ to completely off the radar. His world ranking, which began last year at No. 10 and is now back up to No. 13 after he became the first three-time winner this season, fell as far as 117th before his win at Riviera in February.

Watson attributes much of the turnaround to a change in health. Never really one to tip the scales, he lost 25 pounds in a three-month span last year while battling an undisclosed health concern. After putting some of the weight back on, he’s now able to focus more of his time and energy on fine-tuning one of the Tour’s most distinctive approaches.

“Anytime any of these guys kind of get comfortable with just being them, and golf is secondary in a sense, it helps them reach their potential,” said Scott. “I think the hype and the pressure can sometimes put things out of sort. And right now he’s just very comfortable with who he is as a person, and I think in his life. It helps him relax on the golf course.”

What Watson doesn’t prefer to mention is the equipment change he made that serves as a not-so-subtle line of demarcation. The southpaw turned heads at the end of 2016 when he agreed to play a colored Volvik ball on Tour during the 2017 season, only to watch his results fall off a cliff. A return to the Titleist ball he previously used has coincided with some of the best results of his 12-year career.

“I don’t think it has had any (role) in my success,” Watson said. “My clubs weren’t going the distance that I used to. I couldn’t shape it the way I want to. Luckily for me, I know the problem, and the problem was with health and not all these other things.”

But regardless of the true source of his turnaround, Watson is back to doing what he does best. That includes carving up the handful of venues that most fit his unique eye, be they lined by thick kikuyu rough outside Los Angeles or dotted with menacing water hazards outside Hartford.

The artistic touch was on full display with his final swing of the day. Facing exactly 71 yards to a pin tucked barely over the edge of a yawning bunker on No. 18, Watson laid the face open on his 63-degree wedge and hit a cut shot that spun and checked to inside 3 feet.

“Teddy put his arm around me, like, ‘That was an amazing shot,’” Watson said. “He’s seen a lot of shots, he’s been out here for many years. So for him to realize it, and other players to text me and realize it, it was special.”

While it seemed at the time like a shot that gave Watson a glimmer of hope in his pursuit of Casey, it ultimately turned out to be the final highlight of a three-shot victory. It’s the type of shot that few, if any, of his peers can visualize, let alone execute with such exact precision with the tournament hanging in the balance.

It’s the type of shot that separates Watson – the quirky left-hander with the pink driver who openly talks about his struggles with on-course focus and abhors few things more than trying to hit a straight shot – from even the best in the game when things are firing on all cylinders.

“The skills have always been there, as you know. But he’s just more relaxed now,” Scott said. “And when these guys, obviously when they enjoy it, they can play at their best and not get too stressed.”