Ron Sirak

One And Only

Se Ri Pak's U.S. Women's Open win at Blackwolf Run inspired a generation of players, but none have matched the level of the original

LPGA: Se Ri Pak

Pak's win at the 1998 U.S. Women's Open caused girl's golf in Korea to flourish.

July 3, 2012

KOHLER, Wis. -- When the U.S. Women's Open was played at Blackwolf Run in 1998, there were virtually no Koreans on the LPGA. Ok-Hee Ku had become the first from that country to win on tour in 1988 and Woo-Su Ku won once each in 1994 and '95, and that was pretty much it. Then along came Se Ri Pak.

When powerful 20-year-old from Seoul won the LPGA Championship in May of 1998 and then followed it with a second major title at Blackwolf Run in July -- which was televised back to Korea -- well, you could say the U.S. Women's Open opened floodgates for girl's golf in Korea.

Since Pak burst on the scene, 30 different Koreans have won a total of 93 LPGA events, including 13 majors, five of those by Se Ri. There is, however, evidence the Korean momentum is ebbing, just not in the U.S. Women's Open, where they have won three of the last four and four of the last seven in large part because their accuracy off the tee and consistency on the greens fits well with USGA course setups.

In the first 10 years of this century -- from 2001 through 2010  Koreans won 78 times on the LPGA, an average of 7.8 per year. Last year, they won just twice, albeit one of those was the U.S. Women's Open by So-Yeon Ryu in a playoff with Hee-Kyung Seo, another Korean.

Related: Check out our Golf Digest Woman section

The lone Korean win this year has been by Sun Young Yoo, also in a major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, after I.K. Kim, also from Korea, missed a putt inside two feet for the win. In all fairness, the Koreans are winning less because other countries are winning more, including the Americans.

Yani Tseng of Taiwan has three wins this year, but has not contended in her last six starts, while Ai Miyazato of Japan, who won last week in Arkansas, has two. Azahara Munoz of Spain, Phatlum Pornanong of Thailand and Shanshan Feng of China each have one. Feng, the only player on tour from mainland China, picked up that country's first LPGA win in the Wegman's LPGA Championship, the second major of the year.

And then there is that American resurgence. Stacy Lewis has won twice this year with Jessica Korda, Angela Stanford and Brittany Lang picking up one each. In fact, Lewis leads the Rolex Player of the Year race as she tries to become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to capture that honor. Lewis also trails Miyazato by only $136,000 and Tseng by 106,000 on the money list, which no American has topped since Betsy King in 1993.

Birdie Kim got the Korean run in the Women's Open started when she holed an improbable bunker shot on the 72nd to win at Cherry Hills in 2005. Last year it was Ryu at the Broadmoor. Paula Creamer won at Oakmont in 2010, Eun-Hee Ji captured the title at Saucon Valley the year before that and Inbee Park won at Interlachen in 2008.

Park is part of a fascinating class of Korean kids who watched in wonder as television brought Pak's 1998 victory into their homes half a world away. Among those Korean girls who were 10 years old at the time are Inbee Park, I.K. Kim, Song Hee Kim, Na On Min, Il You Oh, Jiyai Shin and Eun-jung Yi. Shin, with a victory at the 2008 Ricoh Women's British Open, joins Park as a major championship winner. Pak inspired them to become pro golfers.

The week before that 1998 U.S. Women's Open, the tour stop was the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Atlantic City. So much Korean media was on hand to do preview stories for Blackwolf Run that officials had to run out and get signs made up that said, "Quiet" in Korean.

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