2001: Complete Pak-age

By Alistair Tait

Sunningdale, England

Se Ri Pak’s view of golf in Britain has changed a lot in three years. In 1998, she hated British-style golf. Now she’s a big fan. Perhaps a major fan might be a better expression.

Pak’s victory Aug. 5 in the Weetabix Women’s British Open not only gave the South Korean her first victory on British soil but her third major title, following her 1998 U.S. Open and McDonald’s LPGA Championship victories.

Pak shot 71-70-70-66 for an 11-under 277 total to give her a two-shot victory over South Korean Mi Hyun Kim. American Laura Diaz, Scots Janice Moodie and Catriona Matthew, and Denmark’s Iben Tinning finished tied for third at 280.

It was Pak’s fourth victory of the season and her check for $221,650 moved her to No. 1 on the LPGA money list ahead of Annika Sorenstam. Pak, 23, only needs the Nabisco Championship to complete a career grand slam. If she wins the Nabisco in the next three years she will be the youngest player to complete the grand slam.

Kim picked up $143,00 for finishing second, while Diaz, Moodie, Matthew and Tinning earned $74,092 each.

Matthew began the final round at 9 under, good enough for a one-shot lead over Moodie, England’s Lora Fairclough and Kim. No one really gave Pak much of a chance of winning, even though she started the day only four shots back. An eagle at the par-5 first hole, where she knocked her 3-wood to 10 feet, got her off to a flying start. She birdied the 10th and 12th holes to move to 9 under and suddenly found herself in contention.

“I really didn’t realize I was at the top of the leaderboard until the 13th or 14th,” said Pak. “Then I thought there are still so many holes to go, and the last three holes are so hard.

“I was just thinking, just keep playing and try for the best finish I can get. And then after 14 I saw that everybody had dropped to 8 or 9 under. So I was on the top of the leaderboard. It was kind of a big surprise to me.”

Pak made sure of her victory with some style. She birdied the 17th and 18th holes to move to 11 under and an unassailable lead.

Diaz was even further back than Pak at the start of the final round. She started the day six shots off Matthew’s lead but quickly drew level with six consecutive birdies. She made another birdie at the 10th but ruined her chances with bogeys at the 14th and 16th. It was the first time the New Yorker had ever made six consecutive birdies.

Fortune seemed to be smiling on Matthew all week. In the first round, she holed her 7-iron second to the 18th for eagle and an opening 2-under 70. She aced the 215-yard, par-3, 15th hole with a 7-wood in her second-round 65. At one point in the third round she was five strokes ahead, but dropped three shots in the last four holes to take a one shot lead after 54 holes.

Matthew’s luck did not hold on Sunday, even though she birdied the first two holes to move to 11 under. Her luck ran out on the greens.

“I didn’t feel comfortable on the greens all day,” said Matthew. “I got off to a good start, with the birdies at the first two holes, but then I made bogey at fifth and three-putted the sixth, and I lost my momentum. I three-putted the 10th for par. But then I made a really good birdie at 14th, but I couldn’t make another one. What really stopped me was the three-putt on 15th.”

Moodie also suffered a little on the greens on Sunday.

“A couple of more putts could have dropped and it might have been different,” said Moodie, who along with Matthew could have made history at Sunningdale as the first Scotswoman to win a major championship.

Instead it was Pak who made history by becoming the first player to win the Women’s British Open in its inaugural year as a designated major championship. Her performance was a far cry from 1998 at Royal Lytham, the first and last time Pak played in the Women’s British Open (she shot 20-over 308 to tie for 34th.)

“After 1998, I just said I can’t come back any more because it was so hard,” Pak said. “I mean, it rained the whole week, the wind so bad and course was not right. So I was thinking, I couldn’t play this kind of golf.”

Pak’s caddie, Colin Cann, persuaded her that Sunningdale would suit her game. Cann, who won two majors caddying for Annika Sorenstam, knows a lot about Sunningdale. He lives 10 minutes away in nearby Egham. “Colin said, ‘English golf is fun.’ I said ‘No, it’s not fun. It’s a stress for me.’

“There was no choice for me, this is like our last major of the year. I tried and actually it was fun to play. I said, ‘This is fun. This is kind of different, but it’s fun.’ But I learned more about a different golf game. So I was really excited to play.”

Pak knows nothing about Turnberry, where she will defend her title next year. But one thing’s for sure, she’ll go to the west coast of Scotland as a major fan of British golf.

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