Stoking the embers

By Randall MellJuly 11, 2011, 8:38 pm

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The words lift Se Ri Pak, but they stab at her, too.

“When I was young, Se Ri was my hero,” South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu said moments after defeating fellow countrywoman Hee Kyung Seo Monday to win the U.S. Woman’s Open in a playoff. “Se Ri was all of our heroes.”

The words have become a mantra in South Korea. Pak’s kids keep multiplying, her story as a pioneer keeps resonating with yet another winner this week detailing how she was motivated by Pak’s American success. After Monday’s triumph, Ryu told the familiar story of how she watched Pak’s breakthrough victory at the U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in ’98. It’s staggering how gifted young South Koreans keep coming along to tell that story.

“Se Ri was like a god,” Ryu said.

The adulation moves Pak, but it can also overwhelm her.

Being looked upon as a golf god isn’t easy, especially when today’s youth can make you feel so mortal.

“That’s the hardest thing in being who she is out here,” said Mark Wuersching, Pak’s caddie. “It’s the responsibility she feels, the interruptions, the distractions. Se Ri gets 40 girls a week wanting to say hello to her.”

The hardest part of being viewed as a golf god is wanting to play like one again.

Despite a disappointing finish in the final round, Pak waited around to follow Ryu and Seo in their playoff. Pak was there in the end, racing onto the 18th green celebration to help soak Ryu in champagne.

Pak was so proud, but there were other feelings.

At 33, while Pak understands she created something larger than herself, she quietly struggles with the legacy.

As much as Pak wants to help her young protégés, she also wants to beat them. She’s on fire to beat them. She wanted to be out there with Ryu and Seo in that playoff.

That’s the back side of the Pak story Monday. Her past glory isn’t only fueling South Korean kids. It’s fueling Pak again, fanning old embers into a fire again.

Where Pak once seemed burned out by the game’s demands, she burns once more to win another major.

“This stirs her,” Wuersching said of the All Korean Playoff. “She appreciates the respect that’s shown her, and it’s important to her to show respect back, but she also wants to play golf for herself now. She has more desire now than when she was 20. She wants it badly again, and it’s her biggest issue. It hurts her in the biggest events.”

Pak’s Hall of Fame record includes 25 LPGA titles, five of them majors. She ended a three-year winless spell with a victory at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic last year. Her last major championship triumph was the LPGA Championship five years ago.

With a left wrist injury aggravated in Wednesday’s practice round, Pak played this U.S. Women’s Open on pain killers. After getting herself into contention halfway through the championship, she closed with 77 and 76.

“Days like today and yesterday, they really hurt her,” Wuersching said. “She was probably over prepared this week. She wanted it too much.”

Ryu’s victory brought terrific memories of Pak back to life. It sent reporters rushing to Pak to ask her about the South Korean pipeline she created. Where once there was only Pak at the top of the game, now there’s 18 South Koreans among the top 50 in the Rolex World Rankings, more than twice the number of Americans.

“I just opened the door for them to play, to give them more confidence, it was the beginning,” Pak said. “Now, they aren’t afraid to come out and play with the best golfers in the world on the LPGA. I’m very proud of them.”

Ryu’s victory ended a drought that was getting a lot of attention back in her homeland. It was the first victory by a South Korean this year. That fact just highlights the monster expectations Pak created. Since Pak became the lone South Korean on the LPGA in ’98, South Koreans have won 90 LPGA titles. They’ve won 42 times in the last five years.

Just about every South Korean who wins an LPGA event points to Pak. Just about every South Korean who joins the tour wants to meet Pak, to be paired with her in an event.

“Sometimes, I feel a lot of pressure, just to make sure I’m leading the right way, the better way,” Pak said. “They are doing really, really great without me much helping. They are so different than I was.”

When Pak joined the tour, she spoke little English. She didn’t have other South Koreans to pal around with. She says she’s impressed with how the younger players are learning English today, how well they’re handling pressure.

“I’m very proud of them,” Pak said.

Pak burns to keep making her prodigies proud of her. She also burns to show them she can still beat them in the big events.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."

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Grillo still hunting follow-up to debut win

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:53 pm

Following a round of 1-under 69 Saturday, Emiliano Grillo will enter Sunday's final round at Colonial four shots behind leader Justin Rose.

Grillo is hunting his first win since he took the 2015 Safeway Open in his rookie debut as a PGA Tour member. 

The young Argentinian finished 11th in the FedExCup points race that season, contending in big events and finishing runner-up at the 2016 Barclays.

In the process, Grillo had to learn to pace himself and that it can be fruitless to chase after success week to week.

"That was a hot run in there," Grillo said Saturday, referring to his rookie year. "I played, in 2016, I played the majors very well. I played the big tournaments very well. I was in contention after two, three days in most of the big events.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I think, you know, I wanted to do better. I pushed for it. Some of the tournaments I ended up being 50th or 60th just because I wanted to play. I wanted to play well so badly. That played against me, so I learned from that. In that rookie year, I learned that."

Grillo was still plenty successful in his sophomore season, advancing to the BMW Championship last fall.

But now he's beginning to regain some of that form that made him such an immediate success on Tour. Grillo has recorded four top-10 finishes year - a T-9 at Mayakoba, a T-8 at Honda, a T-3 at Houston, and a T-9 at Wells Fargo - and will now look to outduel U.S. Open champs in Rose and Brooks Koepka on Sunday at Colonial.

"Well, he's top 10 in the world, so everything he does he does it pretty well," Grillo said of Rose. "You know, he does his own thing. Like I say, he's top 10 in the world. Nothing wrong with his game. ...

"He's in the lead on a Sunday. Doesn't matter where you're playing, he's got to go out and shoot under par. He's got 50 guys behind him trying to reach him, and I'm one of those. I've just got to go out and do what he did today on those first five or six holes and try to get him in the early holes."