There were tears, understandable, at Sky 72 Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea as Se Ri Pak played her final round of professional golf on Thursday. But they were she not just from the 39-year-old Hall of Fame golfer who became a force on the LPGA Tour starting in the late 1990s. Many of the thousands of fans in the gallery were seen crying as they watched Pak compete for the last time.
Pak shot an 80 in the first round of the LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship, playing with a left shoulder injury that would have otherwise kept her out of the event had she not wanted her last professional start to come in her home country. (She had already said she would not play in the second round.)
“It wasn’t easy out there today,” Pak said during a retirement ceremony conducted at the course after the round, both from a physical and emotion perspective. “When I reached the 18th, I was on the tee box, and I felt like I couldn’t make the shot. I think I cried all throughout the 18th hole. Actually there was flood of emotions that I really didn’t expect to feel. I didn’t expect myself to feel this way.
"From the fairway of the 18th hole and the green I could see the gallery and the fans and there was just a lot of love and support. I think it was one of the best moments. 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.”
Winner of 25 LPGA titles including five major championships, Pak announced that this would be her final season in March. Her legacy includes becoming the youngest player ever inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, qualifying at age 30 in 2007.
Moreover, it was her performance on the course that literally inspired a generation of Korean girls to play golf. Before Pak joined the LPGA, only one South Korean woman, Ok-Hee Ku, had won on the tour. Since then, 40 Korean players have won more than 150 LPGA titles. According to Beth Ann Nichols of Golfweek, there are currently 34 Korean players on the LPGA Tour, and 27 of them have won titles. On the Rolex Rankings, 12 of the top 24 players are Korean, many of them specifically mentioning Pak as their hero.
It wasn’t just Korean golfers though that soaked in the moment on Thursday. Check out this tweet from Brooke Henderson, the 19-year-old rising star from Canada.
Meanwhile, the LPGA put together a nice tribute video honoring Pak.