PITTSFORD, N.Y. – When the South Korean national anthem is played early in the morning, images that evoke national pride are flashed on television screens across the east Asian nation. I.K. Kim said the reel includes Se Ri Pak taking off her shoes to hit a shot out of the hazard on the 18th at Blackwolf Run in the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open.
It’s an iconic image for Koreans, whether they play golf or not.
“Se Ri was born at the U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run,” said Pak, speaking in the third person at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.
So it’s terrific news that Pak is not only in the field this week, but more importantly, that she will return to Kohler, Wis., next month to give golf fans a chance to relive a moment that quite literally changed the face of the game.
At the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic in late April, Pak slipped on a flight of stairs and injured her right shoulder while bracing her fall against a railing. For three days, Pak sweated out a prognosis, hoping to avoid surgery. The original forecast had her on the sidelines until the fall – missing Blackwolf Run.
Members of the LPGA’s rehabilitation staff came to Pak’s home in Orlando, Fla., to help her recover. It was the first time in her career that Pak had been this seriously injured during the season.
“They did such an amazing job,” Pak said. “How many players are on tour?”
Three and a half weeks after her injury, Pak started hitting wedges from 50 yards. The next week, she hit 9-irons; the third week, 5-irons. That culminated in nine holes last week, and here she is now in western New York, feeling no pain.
“If you watch her, you’d never know she was injured,” said Pak’s longtime instructor, Tom Creavy. He noted, however, that it’s extremely important that Pak hit the fairways this week as she’s likely to be timid out of the rough. And with all the recent rain at Locust Hill Country Club, the rough is thick and wet.
But Pak’s main focus isn’t on this week’s LPGA Championship (her first major title in ’98). She’s looking ahead to the Open.
Several weeks ago, Herb Kohler, the man who built Blackwolf Run, sent his private jet to Orlando to pick up Pak for U.S. Women’s Open media day. Pak didn’t touch a club that day, but she was blown away by the fact that nothing had changed.
“It seemed like yesterday,” she said. “Every single moment was clear.”
Pak calls Blackwolf Run the toughest, most stressful course she has ever played, but it’s also her favorite. This year’s setup will be 6,954 yards, par 72. Blackwolf played to 6,412 yards in 1998, a par 71. Pak went into a playoff after finishing 72 holes at 6 over par.
Before her recent trip to Kohler, Pak stopped in Chicago and reports that the Korean-American community there is counting the days until Blackwolf Run. She expects another massive turnout.
“It’s a huge deal,” she said. “They’re going to be waiting.”
A healthy Pak won’t disappoint.
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Cheyenne Woods makes her professional debut this week at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, and she will be covered in the Nike swoosh. Woods, who chose the same agency as her Uncle Tiger, said they are working on signing with Nike. She played with Nike and wore Nike apparel while a student at Wake Forest.
Woods graduated from Wake three weeks ago and then qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open. She has no status on the developmental Symetra Tour but hopes to land more LPGA sponsor exemptions this summer. She plans to attend LPGA Q-School in September.
“I first picked up a club when I was about 2 years old in my grandfather’s garage,” Woods said, speaking of Earl Woods, Tiger’s late father. “That’s where Tiger got started. My grandfather, he didn’t push me into the game. I kind of picked it up on my own and fell in love with it.”
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Suzann Pettersen said that if fans could know one thing about her that they wouldn’t glean from watching her play, it would be that she smiles a lot off the golf course.
That’s a true statement. Pettersen possesses a very dry sense of humor. She’s a needler. But when she steps onto that tee box, it’s all business.
“It’s just because I care,” Pettersen said. “Believe me, I love doing my job, but my intensity is up there. . . . But you get me during a dinner, I will get you laughing.”