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Len Ziehm On Golf

U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN: Pak’s win in ’98 triggered big changes for LPGA

KOHLER, Wis. – Blackwolf Run was where women’s golf took a dramatic turn back in 1998. That’s where Se Ri Pak, a South Korean player, captured one of the most dramatic U.S. Women’s Opens ever. Her win in the biggest tournament in women’s golf triggered a huge influx of players from her country onto the Ladies PGA Tour.

Only nine players from the 1998 field at Blackwolf are back for this 67th U.S. Women’s Open, which tees off today, and Pak is one of them.

Pak defeated 20-year-old amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn in a 20-hole playoff for the title in ’98. Chuasiriporn took a brief fling as a touring pro but didn’t like it. She’s now a nurse in Richmond, Va., and hasn’t played golf in five years. Pak’s impact on the sport, though, has gotten bigger and bigger over the years.

Because of what Pak did, as the first successful Korean player on the women’s circuit, more Korean parents encouraged their daughters to take up golf. Now about 40 compete on the LPGA circuit and many are quite successful. So Yeon Ryu, another Korean, is this week’s defending champion and 28 Koreans are in the field.

“I guess I opened the door for them, as nobody even had tried before,’’ said Pak after a practice round here. “I gave them more confidence about their move forward. I decided to move to the U.S. and play the LPGA Tour. I wanted to be No. 1. My dream was here, on the LPGA Tour. Now they are trying to make their dreams comes true.’’

When Pak won the first of her 27 LPGA tournaments en route to a Hall of Fame career Ryu was 8 years old and wanted to be a violinist.

“At that moment golf was just my hobby and violin was my dream,’’ said Ryu. “Now violin is my hobby and golf is my dream job.’’

Ryu, who calls Pak “my hero,’’ won her title last year in a playoff with Hee Kyung Seo, another Korean, and Pak walked with both.

Pak gave Ryu some advice after both arrived here.

“She said don’t take too much practice at the golf course, because sometimes too much information makes you crazy,’’ said Ryu. “She said to keep low expectations and just trust yourself. I totally understand that.’’

Pak won’t likely contend this week on a course that is 500 yards longer than when she won. She dislocated her left shoulder in May. While her return to competition was sooner than expected, she hasn’t regained top form yet and last week she dropped out of an LPGA tourney in Arkansas, apparently because of dehydration.

Still chances are good a Korean, rather than an American, will win the title on Sunday, however. Only five Americans are ranked in the world’s top 20, and in the last 50 women’s majors American golfers won just nine times. Koreans, meanwhile, won 11 majors including five Women’s Opens since Pak’s victory.