By Ward Clayton
Even though Se Ri Pak has been hampered by a shoulder injury most of this season, the South Korean World Golf Hall of Famer's influence is quite evident this week at the KEB-HanaBank Championship.
Players from South Korea make up five of the top 10 players in the Rolex Women's Player of the Year race, four of the top 10 in earnings and the leaders in scoring average and the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year competition. Na Yeon Choi's win at this summer's U.S. Women's Open was the fourth win in five years and fifth in eight years by a South Korean at the women's most prestigious tournament. Additionally, the home women have dominated the tournament, capturing seven of the 10 LPGA tournaments played in South Korea, starting with Pak's win in the inaugural tournament in 2002.
When Pak won the 1998 U.S. Women's Open as a rookie, she was the lone South Korean on the LPGA. By 2008, there were 45 South Koreans playing on the LPGA. This year, there are 42 South Koreans with full membership privileges, second only to Americans.
Most South Korean golfers today were inspired by Pak's playoff victory at Blackwolf Run. Inbee Park's parents watched Pak's win in the middle of the night and she took up the game soon after and moved to the United States at age 12. At age 8, So Yeon Ryu was considering becoming a violinist before Pak's win pushed her toward golf. Most of the South Korean golfers have similar stories of learning from Pak's iconic victory.
Pak, who turned 35 on Sept. 28, sustained a torn labrum in her left shoulder in late April as she braced herself for a fall down steps. She has made a career-low 10 starts this season, with withdrawals after the first round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in late June and last week at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia. But she is in the field this week, receiving an illustrious pairing with South Korea's Jiyai Shin (the LPGA's stroke-average leader) and American Cristie Kerr for Friday's first round. It will mark her 324th career start that includes 25 wins. With $11,721,040 in career earnings (sixth on the all-time list), Pak could surpass the $12-million mark by the end of the season.
Who will win the inaugural event?
Will Jessica Korda defend her title?