Golf career capped, Pak Se-ri now wants ‘to be like Mr Palmer’ to the sport

The legendary South Korean Pak se-ri concludes her golf career and counts among her post-playing ambitions becoming a figure of influence on the game.

Pak Se-ri of South Korea reacts during her retirement ceremony. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters / October 13, 2016
Powered by automated translation

Retiring South Korean says she aims to make an impact similar to Palmer’s to help young players develop in the sport

It has been 18 years since Pak Se-ri shed socks and shoes and stepped gingerly into the water to play a daring recovery stroke at the 1998 US Open, a shot that both defined her career and helped change the face of women’s golf forever.

Pak’s victory over American Jenny Chuasiriporn after a 20-hole play-off in Wisconsin would open up the LPGA Tour to an “Asian invasion” and proved to be a stepping stone for women’s golf to reach new markets.

After a retirement ceremony for the 39-year-old trailblazer on Thursday at the co-sanctioned KEB Hana Bank Championship, Pak said it had been difficult to get through the round.

“I reached 18 and I didn’t think I could hit the tee shot,” she said. “I cried all the way down the 18th. I’d had a lot of victories but that was one of the happiest moments of my career.”

Looking back on her 1998 groundbreaking win, Pak said the shot from the water, or rather, making that decision to get into the water and play from an “impossible” position, made her who she is today.

“I know it was impossible but I wanted to try it,” she said.

“In that moment, without trying it, I don’t think I would be here as ‘Se-ri Pak’.”

It would be difficult to overstate Pak’s influence on the women’s game.

Comparisons have been made to Tiger Woods and Seve Ballesteros, game-changers who brought the sport to new audiences and encouraged a generation to play the game. But for many, Pak’s influence is unrivalled.

Korean television deals have become the biggest source of revenue for the LPGA Tour, which makes stops in China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore this year.

On the playing side, more than a quarter of all LPGA tournaments since Pak’s 1998 US Open victory have been won by Korean-born players.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan thanked Pak for helping women’s golf smash through regional barriers.

“And most importantly, little girls all over the world grew up watching you and saying, ‘I want to do that, too’,” he said this week. Some of those she inspired to take up the game, dubbed the “Se-ri Kids”, are here playing in Incheon this week including Ryu So-yeon, Choi Na-yeon, Ji Eun-hee and Chun In-gee, who all followed in Pak’s footsteps by winning the US Open.

Seven-time major winner and Olympic champion Park In-bee, missing from the field this week as she continues her recovery from injury, was also on hand at the retirement ceremony.

While Pak was locked in an epic battle with Chuasiriporn at Blackwolf Run in 1998, back home in South Korea an entire country sat up in the small hours of the morning, bleary-eyed but captivated.

Parents woke children from their beds to watch a new national hero emerge, the first female sporting hero in Korea’s male-dominated society and one who would help lift the gloom of a financial crisis that had brought the economy to its knees.

Park was almost 10 years old when she stumbled out of bed to see what the commotion was in the TV room as her parents cheered Pak’s victory in 1998. She took up golf two days later.

Newspapers trumpeted Pak’s triumph for days, splashing photo after photo of her holding aloft the US Open trophy.

But it is the image of the barefoot player producing a piece of magic from the mud when her title bid was hanging by a thread that still resonates most with South Koreans.

Women’s golf would never be the same.

“When all is said and done, I want to be remembered as someone who was widely respected,” she said on Thursday.

Name-checking the late US great Arnold Palmer, Pak said she wanted to continue to play an influential role after she retires.

“I know I’ve got a long ways to go, but I’d love to be like Mr Palmer and learn to become someone who can make a major contribution to golf,” she said. “My goal is to become someone who can be helpful to young players and people around me.

“I am not interested in fulfilling personal desires.

“I want to create an environment where athletes can thrive and compete to the best of their abilities.”

In nearly two decades on the LPGA tour, Pak racked up 25 victories and five majors.

“I’ve come a long way, and I want to give myself a pat on the back,” she said. “I am really happy because I know all of my hard work has paid off.”

She received a rapturous welcome at the first tee, with fans waving banners that read “Thank you Se-ri. We Love You.”

She did not manage to find the shot to suit the occasion, with her drive veering to the left and landing in the rough, but the fans applauded anyway.

“I’ve read a lot about how Se-ri created a real explosion of golf in Korea, but that’s too narrow,” Whan said in his tribute.

“She woke up all of Asia.”

* Agencies

Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE

Like us on Facebook at