Posted by: happyfan08 | May 20, 2010

Se Ri Pak the Playoff Queen

Longtime fans of Korean golf were given a great treat last week when Se Ri Pak, the woman who started the Korean wave in golf, won for the first time in nearly three years.  It wasn’t just the fact that she won that was so exciting; it was that she did in the same style that her fans had come to expect.  Se Ri had only rarely been the kind of golfer who would run away with a tournament.  Back in the day, she was much more likely to make a mistake here and there, keeping the outcome in doubt.  But somewhere along the way, she often seemed to slip her game into another gear at just the right moment, making the perfect shot or clutch play to suddenly seize the victory. 

And so it was Sunday, when she found herself in a sudden death playoff with two of the bigger names in the game these days, both Majors winners: Suzann Pettersen and Britney Lincicome.  The three had been the top three in driving distance during the week (Se Ri was second behind Lincicome), so Pak was not going to be getting any advantage off the tee.  After a first hole where all three made routine pars, the second hole proved more dramatic.  Pettersen blinked first, hitting her approach on the second playoff hole into some rough, after which Se Ri hit her approach into a bunker behind the green.  Pettersen made bogey, and Se Ri hit an OK sand shot six feet past the hole.  At this point, things were looking a bit dicey for Pak, but as in the old days, this is where she kicked her game up a gear, easily drilling the par save to keep tied with Lincicome, who also made par. 

Se Ri during the Bell Micro Playoff

Meanwhile, three young Korean golfers watched by the side of the green, cheering their idol’s every play.  The three were Amy Yang, Chella Choi and the world’s #1 women’s golfer, Jiyai Shin, who had managed to accomplish what even Se Ri had not been able to do in her prime, lead the LPGA’s money list (she did so last year).  Shin has always been clear that Pak was her biggest idol growing up, and this was the first time since she had joined the tour where Se Ri had such a great chance to win a tournament.  As Pak lined up the par saving putt, Shin and her fellow golfers clutched champagne bottles nervously, erupting into applause when she made the play.

On the third playoff hole, Se Ri put herself into trouble off the tee, landing in a fairway bunker.  But again, this was typical for Pak.  It was not the case she was perfect in playoffs, just that she made the shots she absolutely needed to make.  And she certainly did that when she hit out of the bunker.  Faced with a tough green that would have been difficult to hold if her shot was anything less than ideal, Se Ri hit the perfect shot which landed exactly where it needed to, rolling to ten feet underneath the hole.  Lincicome landed in the greenside bunker, hit a weak sand shot, but still made a 25 foot par save to put pressure on Se Ri.  No matter.  Se Ri was not going to miss that birdie putt, and after she put it in the bottom of the hole, her long victory drought was over.  Shin and company erupted in joy, spraying their idol with the carefully prepared alochol.

Jiyai Shin and company soak the victorious Se Ri

The win gave Se Ri her 25th career victory, and was, amazingly, not only her first win in nearly three years (the longest winless drought of her career), but also the first win by ANY Korean golfer over the age of 25 in that span.  Further, it might also have made Se Ri the oldest Korean to ever win a tournament on the LPGA (I’d have to check to see how old Ok Hee Ku was when she won her sole LPGA victory; my calculations show she was probably 32 as well).  From one of the youngest Koreans to claim victories to one of the oldest: it has been a long and impressive career for the Queen of Korean Golf Se Ri Pak.

One manifestation of her ability to rise to the occasion like this has always been her playoff record.  Before this week’s tournament she was a perfect 5-0 in playoffs, the best in LPGA history.  After her win that record has improved to 6-0.  Each one of those victories demonstrated Se Ri’s trademark ability to rise to the occasion when she needs to, and some of them were among the most remarkable in LPGA history.  Let’s take a walk down memory lane to revisit each one!

Her first playoff victory is not only the most famous of her career, but arguably one of the most famous in the history of women’s golf.  It almost certainly was the most watched.  It came at the 1998 US Women’s Open, when she found herself in an 18 hole playoff with amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn of Timonium, Maryland.  Two 20 year olds facing each other in a playoff for women’s golf’s biggest prize, made all the more exciting by the fact Chuasiriporn had made a 40 foot putt the previous day to get into the playoff in the first place.  As it turned out, even 18 holes would not be enough to settle matters.  For the first time, a US Women’s Open playoff went to sudden death, where Se Ri finally prevailed on the 20th hole, the longest playoff in LPGA history.

Millions in Korea tuned in and watched all night long as the playoff seesawed between first one then the other player.  Chuasiriporn got off to a great start, climbing to a three stroke advantage at one point, but gave it all away when she made triple bogey on a par 3 early in her round.  They stayed within a shot of each other the rest of the way. 

On the 18th hole came without question the iconic moment in Se Ri’s career, and perhaps in all of Korean women’s golf history.  If you could point to one moment that sparked the Korean golf explosion, it came here.  Se Ri hit her drive left into some deep rough next to the water.  She had a choice: hit the second shot standing in the water, or take a penalty.  At this point, she had no choice but to go into the water.  She removed her shoes, revealing pale white feet, stepped into the water, and hit a solid shot from there.  She would scramble to keep tied with Chuasiriporn thanks to that play, forcing the sudden death.  The image of Pak hitting a shot from the water is indelible in Korean sports history.

Se Ri wins the 1998 US Women's Open

No other playoff Se Ri has participated in has been nearly as memorable as that first one, but the others all have their memorable aspects.  Her second playoff was also a historic one.  It came at the 1999 Jamie Farr Classic, where Se Ri was defending her title.  In the end, six different players were tied for the lead when regulation ended, producing the largest playoff in LPGA history.  But it was Se Ri who prevailed, hitting her shot the closest to the pin, then waiting while all five other golfers missed their chances to birdie before she sank the birdie to claim her second straight win at the tournament.

Se Ri wins the 99 Farr

Se Ri’s next playoff came later that year at the final event of the season, the Tour Championship.  Se Ri wound up in a playoff with Karrie Webb and Laura Davies.  Se Ri put her drive behind a tree, and it looked like one of the other ladies would prevail.  But she hit an unreal curving shot with an 8 iron from there, arcing the ball perfectly around the tree and onto the green, where it rolled right up to the flag.  Shortly thereafter her third playoff win was in the bag.

Se Ri with her 8th career victory

Se Ri’s next playoff win allowed her plenty of opportunity to show off her ability to rescue herself just when it looked like all was lost.  It happened at the 2003 Chick-Fil-A Charity Championship, hosted by her good friend Nancy Lopez.   This is perhaps the most obscure of her playoff wins, but in some ways it was the most exciting, for she never made more clutch plays to pull one out than in this four hole masterpiece.

It all started on the 18th hole of regulation.  Se Ri missed the green, then fluffed her chip.  She now needed to make a 20 foot birdie to even get into the playoff, which she proceeded to do.  Game on!

She was pitted against Shani Waugh, who had never won before, but who would prove to be a formidable opponent on this day. 

On the second playoff hole, Se Ri hit a perfect drive and an approach to 10 feet.  When Waugh missed her birdie, Se Ri had a chance to put it away.  Her putt was perfect, and she was halfway into a fist pump when the ball lipped out.  D’oh!  Back to hole 18!

Se Ri lips out a putt on the second playoff hole at the 2003 Chick-Fil-A

On that hole, Se Ri hit a great drive, and Waugh put her approach on the green.  Then Se Ri hit a terrible second shot that ended up in deep rough near the scoring tent.  She got a free drop from there, but still had to fly a bunker from a rotten lie.  And once again she delivered, with a gorgeous flop shot that landed delicately on the green and stopped four feet past the hole.  She made birdie, as did Waugh.  It was her second amazing golf shot in the last few holes.

On the fourth playoff hole, Waugh made a mistake, winding up in a greenside bunker in two.  Se Ri just needed to hit the green, but her ball was in a bad lie, and her shot flew over the green to a patchy area beyond.  It’s never easy!  She had almost no chance to get the ball close from there, and her pitch put her about fifteen feet away.  But she dug yet another amazing shot out of her bag of tricks, burying the lengthy comebacker to put Waugh away and grab the win at last.  Finally Se Ri had her fourth playoff win!

Se Ri with her Chick-Fil-A trophy

One of her shortest playoff wins was also her second most important, behind only the US Women’s Open, for it resulted in her fifth Major victory.  It came at the 2006 LPGA Championship.  She was pitted against no less a player than Karrie Webb, a Hall of Famer with even more wins than she.  People forget that Se Ri missed a makable par in regulation on the final hole that would have won her the championship outright.  She also hit a fairly weak drive in the playoff, giving the advantage to Webb.  But all that didn’t matter.  With 202 yards to the hole, Se Ri hit arguably the greatest shot of her entire career, a brilliant, jaw dropping rescue club to 3 inches.  Webb could not make birdie, and the win was Pak’s.  It was an especially memorable victory, given she had just emerged from what turned out to be her second longest slump (behind this most recent one) to capture the title.

The thrill of victory! Se Ri beats Karrie for the third time in a playoff

Here’s hoping that her most recent victory is truly the reignition of her great career for a long time to come!  All her fans would love to see many more such brilliant victories in the coming years.

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Responses

  1. […] And I’m certain the LPGA is thrilled to have Alexis back on the course and, more importantly, in front of the cameras. Youth is certainly being served on the LPGA. With so many young champions and highly ranked players on tour, the next 10 years should be very competitive and exciting. Now, if only we could get more than just LPGA diehard fans to watch. The Avnet was called the Bell Micro last year, won by Hall of Fame LPGA star Se Ri Pak. […]

  2. […] the Bell Micro Classic, the 2011 Avnet LPGA Classic conducted their media day. Last year, Se Ri Pak outdueled Brittany Lincicome and Suzann Pettersen in a thrilling playoff. All LPGA events benefit charities, and I am happy to see that Avnet is giving to the Wounded […]


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