South Korea’s most influential golfing hero received the home sendoff she deserved.
Se Ri Pak, a five-time major champion and role model to a burgeoning legion of talented Korean women golfers, played her final LPGA Tour round on Thursday in Incheon, South Korea, at the KEB HanaBank Championship. The 39-year-old has been plagued with a left shoulder injury and decided to only play in the first round as she ceremoniously made one final trek.
“It wasn’t easy out there today,” Pak said during a retirement ceremony after carding an 80. “When I reached the 18th on the tee box, I felt like I couldn’t make the shot. I think I cried all throughout the 18th hole. Actually there was a flood of emotions that I really didn’t expect to feel.”
To describe Pak as the Arnold Palmer of women’s golf would be justifiable. She had five major wins and she may have influenced the game more than any other female to put a tee in the ground in history.
Pak was the lone Korean player on the LPGA Tour in 1998. In 2008, there were 45 Koreans on Tour and the LPGA’s largest source of revenue came from the sale of TV rights in South Korea. Now there are 22 Koreans in the top 50 of the Rolex Rankings — including seven in the top 12 — and players like Inbee Park, In Gee Chun and Sei Young Kim are bonafide celebrities in their home country. Se Ri Pak is the woman nearly all of them aspired to be like, shifting the women’s golf landscape with overwhelming might.
Pak won 39 professional events, never lost an LPGA Tour playoff and was the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1998. However, as she walked down the 18th fairway one final time, she began to think that her final moment may be the best.
“I think it was one of the best moments,” Pak, a World Golf Hall of Fame member since the age of 30, said. “I’ve had a lot of the victories in my career, and I have to say it was one of the best, happiest moments of my career.”
Here are some of the reactions to Pak’s goodbye:
— Brooke Henderson (@BrookeHenderson) October 13, 2016
Players lined down the 18th fairway to embrace a friend and pioneer. Lots of tears! pic.twitter.com/EiRA17fBYH
— Beth Ann Nichols (@GolfweekNichols) October 13, 2016
— #LPGAAsianSwing (@LPGA) October 13, 2016
I wouldn't know where any of the women on lpga would be without you. Se Ri Pak has had an impact… https://t.co/0Zx6Wy7FPM
— Christina Kim (@TheChristinaKim) October 12, 2016
Feeling so honored that I got the chance to meet and play with the great Se Ri Pak. A legend… https://t.co/cEF0m5Gv3x
— Caroline Masson (@CaroMasson) October 12, 2016