Sports Outside the Beltway

Is there anyone with a bigger impact on pro golf than Se Ri Pak?

Eric Edelson at makes the case-

There is plenty of talk about Tiger Woods’ impact on golf, and rightfully so. There is lots of talk about Michelle Wie’s impact on golf, and rightfully so.

But it’s hard to find an athlete who has had more influence on the sport than Se Ri Pak. The PGA Tour still does not have a great deal more African-Americans or Asians than it did when Tiger arrived on the scene. And Wie’s impact, bringing the young and the daring to both men’s and women’s tours, is still years from showing up.

But Pak has single-handedly changed golf. Eight years ago, she brought her powerful game and maniacal work ethic to a country where she did not know the language or the culture. She was afraid to go into the locker room, worried that someone would ask her a question in English and she would not know how to answer.

Yet when she took her shoes and socks off to play a shot out of the water to help her win the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open, an entire nation of Korean people fell in love. Millions of little girls (and their sports-crazed fathers) suddenly dreamed of being just like her.

“In 1998, there was one Korean on the tour,” says Karrie Webb, an Australia native. “Now there are 32. That’s because of her. She is the face of Korean golf. If they don’t already know, they should know now how much she’s done.”

Counting Se Ri, seven South Koreans have won on tour in 2006. Mi-Hyun Kim came to the LPGA a year after Se Ri. Peanut may or may have been drawn by Se Ri’s sucess on tour. Grace Park was already playing in the US as an amateur and Hee Won Han and Gloria Park either were pros or had signifigant amateur sucess outside of Korea. It is certain that out of the 32, 27 of them came following in Se Ri’s footsteps.

And so this week we saw the tiny but intense Mi Hyun Kim, with her jaw jutting and her gaze burning. We saw her Saturday on the 17th hole, pulling out a fairway wood for a short par-3 and launching it over a bunker and onto the green, then making her putt for birdie. She tied for third. We saw the porcelain-faced Shi Hyun Ahn, with the quietest and most peaceful swing in women’s golf, matching Wie shot for shot for two days straight and finishing within a breath of a playoff. She finished tied for fifth. We saw Seon Hwa Lee, so focused on the fairways that a nuclear detonation couldn’t cause her to dart her eyes. She won last week, and is running away with the Rookie of the Year race.

Seon Hwa Lee is dominating the rookie of the year race. With a win and three second place finishes, Seon Hwa has earned over double what the more heralded Ai Miyazato or Morgan Pressel have won. In spite of her sucess, Seon Hwa has gotten little press. Golf World magazine has done two features on Ai Miyazato in five months but not one on Seon Hwa.

Then GW put LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens on the cover this week instead of Se Ri Pak. This golf publication’s stupidity never ceases to amaze me. They didn’t put Karrie Webb on the cover either after her Nabisco win.

Half of this season’s LPGA tournaments have been won by Koreans. They are 15 percent of the tour, but have won roughly one-third of this year’s prize money. They have made a more perfect world in women’s golf. And they have done so because of Se Ri. Name another athlete who has had as much impact.


And for a time, Se Ri was forgotten, lost in the excellence of Annika Sorenstam and the awe of Wie. When the 16-year-old Korean-American became the first woman in 61 years to make a cut on an international men’s tour last month just outside Seoul, many golf fans forgot that Pak made a cut on a domestic men’s tour three years ago.

But no Koreans forgot. Pak is still worshipped in Seoul. (“I’m still the queen,” she said with a big smile on Sunday.) Like Wie may one day be in America, Se Ri is the woman who changed what was possible. She is the woman who made a statement not only for golfers and athletes, but for people who never really considered all the possibilities for their lives. In Korea, Se Ri is not just a star, not just an icon.

She is a metaphor.

And now, after her comeback, Se Ri means not only challenging and inspiring and winning, but she suddenly means overcoming, withstanding, lasting. Pak jumped for joy for the first time ever on a golf course Sunday, but it was also a jump for relief — an enormous weight lifted. Last night, members of Pak’s family flew overnight from Korea to cheer her on today. Now Pak will spend a day or two with them, relaxing and eating and talking and doing all the things that golf once forbade..

Edelson lays it on a little thick. One thing he doesn’t mention the Korean juniors in this country. Michelle is the first, there will be more.

I think Se Ri has the biggest impact on ladies golf at present. As to all of pro golf, I think that is a bit of a stretch. Without Tiger Woods, the men’s tour wouldn’t be playing for as much money as they are.

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