It took 92 holes to separate the two young women at Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin in 1998. One became the youngest US Women’s Open champion and a golfing legend, credited with changing the face of the game; the other gave up golf altogether and became a nurse. Is that one of the small margins that coaches and sports psychologists are fond of talking about?
Jenny Chuasiriporn, born in America to Thai parents, was still an amateur, a student at Duke University, when she holed a 40-foot putt on the 72nd hole to tie Se Ri Pak, of South Korea. The two 20-year olds were still tied after an 18-hole play-off but Pak eventually took the title with a birdie putt at the 92nd hole. It was her second major championship of the season and the LPGA rookie had lit the blue touchpaper that caused the explosion of women’s golf in her homeland.
Pak, who’ll be 40 next year, has just retired from competitive golf amid emotional scenes in Incheon, South Korea. There were three South Koreans on the LPGA Tour in 1998; in 2009 there were 47; in 2016 34. Six of the top ten in the Rolex World Rankings are from South Korea and Lydia Ko, the world No 1, is a New Zealander who was born in South Korea. And it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s down to the impact of Pak, who is revered at home. Inbee Park, one of the current stars inspired by Pak’s exploits, once tried to explain what it was like: “You know Coca Cola? That’s Se Ri in Korea.”
That sort of mega adoration hasn’t made Pak’s life easy and she now stresses the importance of balance in a player’s life but she learned to cope. She threw herself into learning English after deciding that an early interpreter wasn’t getting things right and she was a wonderful interview, if not always easy to follow. It was worth trying to make sense of the sometimes tortuous construction because her grasp of nuance, her ability to express emotion and give life to her feelings was exceptional. She knocked many of her English-speaking colleagues, whose use of their native language never rose above soggy bottom, into a cocked hat. In short, she was a joy as well as an inspiration. Thanks Se Ri.
Chuasiriporn tried professional golf briefly but realised it didn’t suit her and had the nous and intelligence to change tack and study nursing. She, too, has made a huge difference to people’s lives. Thanks Jenny.
Thanks also to Beth Ann Baldry (Golfweek), Randall Mell (Golf Channel) and Lisa Mickey (New York Times and others) for keeping us all up to date and well-informed. Keep up the good work!
Congratulations also to the five people who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame next year: Lorena Ochoa, Meg Mallon, Ian Woosnam, Davis Love III and Henry Longhurst, the late great writer and broadcaster.
Modestly, I claim to have played a part in Ochoa’s victory in the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St Andrews in 2007. The year before, at a very windy Royal Lytham & St Annes, we played together in the pro-am (and won, as I recall) and I, a child of seaside links, employed the chip and run to unusually good effect. Lorena was intrigued, took note and, lo, became champion at the Home of Golf. That’s my story anyway.