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Se Ri Pak Returning to the LPGA as Tournament Namesake

Se Ri Pak’s arrival on the LPGA Tour in 1998 at age 20 is one of the most significant milestones in the history of women’s golf.

She won two of her first five starts, both of them major championships; the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (then the McDonald’s LPGA Championship) and the U.S. Women’s Open and over the course of 19 years would go on to win 25 times on the LPGA Tour and 39 times worldwide. 

Pak returns to the LPGA Tour next week as the host of the FIR HILLS SE RI PAK Championship, taking place at Palos Verdes Golf Club in Palos Verdes Estates near Los Angeles. 

The field will feature 22 of the top 30 players in the world, headlined by world number one Lilia Vu world number two Nelly Korda, and defending champion Ruoning Yin.

When Pak arrived on the scene from her native South Korea the LPGA Tour was dominated by American players with a sprinkling of players from elsewhere.

Pak’s arrival was a catalyst for change. In 1998, her rookie season, she finished second on the money with over USD 872,000, trailing only Annika Sorenstam.

Five years later eight of the top 30 players on the money list hailed from the Republic of Korea. Pak, who spoke no English when she arrived in the U.S., had no inkling any of this would happen.

 “Nobody really knew that South Korea had good golf players. I wanted to see more players from my country and I hoped to see more fans from my country also. That was what I was looking at, but I never thought it was going to actually happen.”

Pak offered her thoughts on how women’s golf in her homeland has evolved in the 26 years since she first joined the LPGA Tour

“I know that since 1998, many players have been inspired by me,” she said.

“I was really happy to see that happen, because, in our country, golf is a really small [sport]. We don’t have that many players, and we don’t have [many] tournaments in season”.

“Our LPGA history is short, but we grew quickly. Many more strong Korean players are coming up through the ranks and I’m really happy about that. Golf is getting bigger and bigger and it’s been really great to see.”

Words by Rick Woelfel
Main image: Kim Hong-Ji | Credit: REUTERS