Pak Se-ri paved the way for women’s golf in South Korea, where she was the first Grand Champion, with a simple credo: “There is no limit to training,” she told the ‘AFP.
It didn’t take long for Pak to win on the LPGA women’s professional circuit: at 20, for her first season, she won the 1998 US Open and thus became the first Asian player to win in the most former major female. 24 more LPGA titles would follow until his retirement in 2016.
Her successes inspired a generation of South Korean players, the “Pak Se-ri kids”, who dominated the circuit. Three of them (Ko Jin-young, Park In-bee and Kim Sei-young) were classified in the four world premieres on Monday, only beaten by the American No.1 Nelly Korda.
But more than pride, this pioneering role weighs on her “like a burden”, she told AFP during her first interview with an international media in three years.
“I went to the United States only to achieve my personal goal. But at one point, my dream also became someone else’s,” said the former golfer.
By dint of sharing her experience of the LPGA circuit with her compatriots, she began to take her role as a “model” seriously.
And with what success! From 2011 to 2020 inclusive, South Koreans won at least one Major each year.
– “Exhausting training” –
Kim Sei-young, strong of 12 LPGA titles, acknowledges it to AFP: “Without her, we would never have even imagined that a career would be possible on the American LPGA circuit. She is a pioneer”.
To get there, only one solution according to Pak: “an exhausting training and an iron mind”.
And that’s what, she says, makes the difference with Western players who “have other things to do when their golf day is over.”
The fact remains that this workload is accompanied by a heavy psychological load.
“It all depends on the results in tournaments and that makes life difficult,” admits Pak. “Burnout can happen at any time. That’s what happened to me.”
After her victory at the Michelob ULTRA in 2004, she missed the cut of the next tournament and fell in stride, going through a two-year slump before regaining victory at the 2006 LPGA Championship, one of the five Majors of the season.
Ten years later, she left the circuit to go into television, where she hosts two shows, and into business, where she co-leads sports marketing company Baz International.
But she hasn’t completely turned her back on top-level golf, becoming the coach of her country’s women’s Olympic team. And “the burden of responsibility is heavier” than when she was a player, she admits.
In Rio, Park In-bee had brought back the gold. But the Pak Se-ri girls came back empty-handed from Tokyo this summer.