Every Indication Says that Pak is Back

By George WhiteJanuary 16, 2001, 5:00 pm
Tiger Woods can do no better than a tie for eighth at Mercedes and Karrie Webb shoots 3 over par at the LPGA. In their rather surprising absence from the winners circle, two former winners jump in who haven't won in nearly a year. Is this a democratic country or what?
Jim Furyk was astounded to win at Kapalua when Rory Sabbatini gagged a 2-foot putt. He was one-upped by Se Ri Pak, who shot a 64 in Orlando to blow by the rest of the field like they were stuck in neutral. Furyk shoots 7-under, Pak shoots 8-under, and both just turn out the lights on folks.
Pak, naturally, was sick. There is a belief among players that you must beware the sick golfer. I'm of the opinion that untold numbers of sick golfers have played poorly, but occasionally one does slip through and win, and that adds to the legend - so beware the sick golfer, I guess.
'Somehow, being sick makes me concentrate more,' Pak said. 'It helped me calm down, even though I'm not feeling well.'
There you have it. Se Ri tries to explain why she wins, just as she had to explain last year why she lost. She is much too accomplished a golfer to go through an entire season without at least one 'W.' She won four times in her rookie season three years ago, including two majors, and then won four more the following year. Last year - nada.
A closer look might shed a little light on the situation. Pak has had so much controversy in her private life. She was a fairly normal child in her native South Korea until the age of 14, when she decided to take up golf.
She immediately became a personal project of her father, who, among other things, made her spend the night in a cemetery to 'strengthen her mind.' She trained by running up 15 flights in the apartment where she lived with her parents in Daejeon, 100 miles from Seoul. Then she had to reverse course and then the 15 flights of stairs backwards. Her father apologized when he learned how difficult it was. He tried it and could only do five flights.
Pak, Se RiShe turned pro and immediately was a big success on the Korean tour, winning five times and coming in second six times in 13 events. Coming to America, she won the U.S. Open and McDonalds as a rookie. Amazingly, she had only been playing golf for six years.
During that off-season, she made so many life-altering changes. She broke the management bonds with Samsung, who had such control of her every move. She broke the ties with David Leadbetter, who had been her teacher from the moment she turned pro. A boyfriend had appeared, and although he since has moved on, he was the principal reason for her differences with Leadbetter and personal assistant Steven Kil. And then she changed clubs, turning her back on the old set she had used to go with a different company.
As it developed, the club switch was what finally brought her down. She had survived a switch from Leadbetter to Butch Harmon - to no one. She had survived the boyfriend and the switch to International Management Group. She had survived the club switch, going winless throughout last season. And there she was, a winner in the inaugural tournament of 2001.
The most advantageous change, however, might have been to a 'new' coach. Tom Creavy once worked for Leadbetter when Se Ri was a student there. He was Pak's main man when Leadbetter didn't have time to check in on her, so he knows her swing intimately. Now he is 'the man,' and Se Ri is listening. Up to now, things couldn't be better.
'My first two years, I had great seasons,' she said. 'And then last year, I had a hard time carrying that - not winning, not doing as well.
'I just decided, actually around July, that I really needed something to get ready for 2001. My mental game needed to get better. I needed to find a coach and get things around me more consistent. I needed to find a caddy to work together better.
'Last year, many things happen. Everything was totally changing. Find a coach, find a caddie, change my swing. We didn't have much of an off-season, only one month. And so I didn't have much of a break.
'I found a coach (Creavy) in September and we worked so well, even though I didn't play well. But I knew I was trying to get ready for this year. Then it was perfect timing finding a good caddie (Colin Cann, Annika Sorenstam's former looper.) Now 2001 looks like everyone is all set - mental, swing, coach, caddie. Everything.'
Everything. Pak is back. At least for one glorious week, the LPGA was everything it was two - or three - years ago.
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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”