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Se Ri Pak is hosting LPGA event this week, and her impact on golf has been phenomenal

March 21, 2024
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Se Ri Pak won 25 times on the LPGA Tour, which ranks 10th all-time.

Stephen Munday

PALOS VERDES ESTATES, Calif. — For the first time, LPGA Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak has attached her name to a tour event in America—the Fir Hills Se Ri Pak Championship that begins Thursday at Palos Verdes Golf Club—and one only needs to peruse the entry list that includes 20 South Korean players to understand how lasting her impact on women’s pro golf has been since her historic 1998 U.S. Women's Open victory. Nearly every compatriot of Pak's has a story of how the 25-time tour winner shaped their professional trajectory.

"I thought it was my own dreams, but I realized that my dream is giving someone else's dreams [a chance] to make it happen," the 46-year-old Pak said in a press conference this week.

South Korean players vividly recall the ripples of Pak stepping into the water in the U.S. Women's Open at Black Wolf Run for “The Shot” that saved her chances to win an 18-hole playoff. Amy Yang, who owns five LPGA wins, remembered watching Pak's historic victory with her parents when she was 10 years old. Eun Hi Jee, the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open champion, reminisced about feeling inspired while watching when she was 12. Hyo Joo Kim, a six-time LPGA champion who got to play with Pak for the second time during the tournament's pro-am Wednesday, succinctly summarized what the South Korean icon means to her.

"Se Ri, hero," Kim, 28, said while holding her hands to the sky.

As the first South Korean to win a major championship, Pak inspired would-be golfers for nearly 15 years as she captured five LPGA majors and amassed her 25 victories over a span from 1998 to 2010. She is No. 10 on the tour’s career wins list.

In Gee Chun, 29, doesn't categorize herself as a Se Ri kid, but she can still credit that U.S. Women's Open title with getting her into golf. Chun's father watched the tournament and was inspired to begin teaching his daughter the game.

Pak's one-on-one interactions with players motivated them to chase their professional golf dreams. When Mi Hyang Lee was 15, she got the opportunity to play a round with Pak at her home course, Sky 72, in Incheon, South Korea. The course's CEO invited her to play to celebrate Pak getting into the LPGA's Hall of Fame. Lee, 30, can still remember her heart pounding from her nerves, but Pak's words at the end of the round crystalized what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

"She told me I am better than when she was 16," said Lee, a two-time LPGA winner. "So that means lots of confidence to me."

When Lee went home, she declared to her dad that she wanted to be a professional golfer.

Jeongeun Lee6 met the South Korean icon for the first time when she won Pak's KLPGA tournament, the OK! Savings Bank Se Ri Pak Invitational, in 2017. Pak congratulated Lee6 on her victory and complimented her swing, giving the then 21-year-old more confidence as she went on to win that year's money list title.

Jiyai Shin also remembered Pak winning the U.S. Women's Open, which amped her nerves when she played alongside Pak for the first time at the 2006 LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship. Shin was an 18-year-old KLPGA rookie who understandably got no sleep the night before playing.

Pak's continued involvement in golf, from her foundation to running tournaments, inspires Shin, 35, on how she wants to approach her next acts in the game. The first World No. 1 from South Korea has an open dialogue and continues talking with Pak about how Shin might approach her final act in the sport.

That includes Shin requesting a sponsor's exemption for this week to play in her first domestic non-major LPGA tournament since the 2013 Safeway Classic. That's all a credit to Pak's influence on Shin over their 18-year relationship.

"Se Ri is hosting this tournament. That's why I'm here," Shin said. "It feels more special for us, because she gifted the way for us."