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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Tiger, Bryson testing each other's golf balls ahead of Paris

By Rex HoggardSeptember 22, 2018, 4:21 pm

ATLANTA – The U.S. Ryder Cup team won’t arrive in Paris for next week’s matches until Monday, but one pairing already seems to be penciled into captain Jim Furyk’s lineup.

Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau have become regular practice-round partners, and when Furyk made both captain’s picks, it added to the notion that they would be paired during the team sessions in France. On Tuesday at East Lake, Woods and DeChambeau teed it up yet again.

Both Woods and DeChambeau play Bridgestone golf balls, although they use different models.

“The two are very similar, they are very numbers-oriented and that translates to their feel on the course, but they get fitted to two different golf balls,” said Adam Rehberg, Bridgestone Golf’s ball-fitting manager.

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Woods plays the company’s Tour B XS, which is softer and spins more, while DeChambeau plays the Tour B X, which is designed to take spin off shots.

Although DeChambeau played a version of the company’s golf ball that was close to what Woods now plays earlier in his career, he appeared to be preparing for a pairing next week during Tuesday’s practice round.

“I’ve seen some chipping of the other’s ball during practice rounds, getting used to it,” Rehberg said. “There’s been some sharing of golf balls internally between those guys. It’s almost like the worst kept secret in golf. It seems they are going to be paired up one way or another.”

The rules for the Ryder Cup were changed in 2006. They allow for foursomes teams to change golf balls between holes but not during a hole, which explains the duo’s interest in becoming comfortable with the other’s golf ball, particularly around the green and for chip shots.

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Casey: RC teams planning Lyle, Celia tributes

By Rex HoggardSeptember 22, 2018, 3:58 pm

ATLANTA – Throughout this season Paul Casey has been in regular contact with European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn, with most communication being via text messages that the Englishman said always included an eclectic range of emojis.

But when the Dane decided to make Casey one of his four captain’s picks, it had to be a phone call.

“He called on Monday (Sept. 3). I was in the parking garage at the Philadelphia Marriott,” Casey said this week at the Tour Championship. “It was rewarding, emotional, so many things.”

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Since being named to the team, Casey said his communication with Bjorn and the other members of the European team has been via WhatsApp, which allows the team to share ideas and finalize plans for next week’s matches. Casey said the exchanges have mainly featured good-natured teasing and a some silly pictures, with a few serious moments.

The European team, in coordination with the U.S. team, is planning to honor Jarrod Lyle, a former PGA Tour player who died last month following his third bout with leukemia, next Thursday in France. There is a public memorial service planned for Lyle on Thursday in Australia.

Casey also said the team is coordinating a plan to also honor Celia Barquín Arozamena, a top college player from Spain who was murdered this week in Iowa.

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Another 59: Nesbitt makes PGA Tour Latinoamerica history

By Nick MentaSeptember 22, 2018, 3:17 pm

For the second time in as many days, the golf world witnessed a professional sub-60.

Drew Nesbitt fired a 12-under 59 on Saturday in the second round of PGA Tour Latinoamerica's Brazil Open.

Nesbitt's round included a bogey, eight pars, five birdies, and four eagles - three of which came on one nine and one of which was an ace at the par-3 second, his 11th hole of the day.

The Canadian closed with three straight birdies, including this one at the ninth, to record the first 59 in the tour's history.

Perhaps more impressive than breaking 60 was that Nesbitt found a way overnight to shave 20 strokes off his first-round 79.

"I knew I had to shoot a low round if I was going to make the cut," he said. "The first hole of the day, I happened to knock it in from 100 yards and get my day started pretty quickly. ...

"My goal, obviously, was just to make the cut. To do it shooting 59 was absolutely incredible. You can't really ask for anything more than that."

With rounds of 79-59 for a 4-under-138 total, Nesbitt sits in a tie for 32nd through two rounds, 10 off the lead held by 2015 champ Alexandre Rocha.

"This is a golfer's dream, to shoot a sub-60 round and to do it in a tourmament and to do on this tour especially makes it that much more special," he said.

On Friday, Oliver Fisher became the first player in history to break 60 on the European Tour with a 12-under 59 at the Portugal Masters.

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Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 22, 2018, 3:00 pm

Tiger Woods is in the final group on Saturday at the Tour Championship. He's out at 2:30 p.m. ET with Justin Rose and we're tracking him.