Rarely can a sliced drive into the rough off the first tee have been greeted with so much adoration and applause.
For fans who turned out yesterday to see the biggest name in South Korean golf in her final tournament, the actual play came a distant second to recognizing a career credited with triggering the nation’s rise as a dominant force in the women’s game.
Pak Se-ri’s victory in the 1998 US Open — then just 20 years old and in her rookie LPGA season — changed everything.
She was the first South Korean — indeed the first Asian — to win the oldest women’s major and became the poster girl for a golfing boom in the nation that has since gone from strength to strength.
Pak won Rookie of the Year in 1998 and seven other South Korean women have emulated her since then. The same number have won US Open titles, including last year’s champion, Chun In-gee.
Many of those who have followed in Pak’s wake — including reigning Olympic champion Inbee Park — often refer to themselves as “Se-ri girls,” citing her US Open triumph as the moment they decided to pursue the sport seriously.
It is a legacy that Pak, now 39, clearly cherishes.
“When all is said and done, I want to be remembered as someone who was widely respected,” she told reporters ahead of the LPGA KEB-Hana Bank Championship that started in Incheon yesterday.
In the first round in Incheon, Alison Lee shot a 65 to take a three-stroke lead over five players on four-under: Anna Nordqvist, Cho Jeong-min, Karine Icher, Kim In-kyung and Lizette Salas.
Kaohsiung-born Candie Kung shot a two-under 70 for a share of 12th, while Taiwanese amateur Hou Yu-sang was seven-over after a 79, with Min Lee another shot back in 76th place.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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