Balance, perspective give Hall of Famer new outlook on golf, life
Fifteen years ago, a shy, quiet rookie from South Korea took the golf world by storm.
With four wins – including two majors – Se Ri Pak skyrocketed from a virtual unknown to a superstar nearly overnight. She was the talk of the golfing community, an instant celebrity and a bright star on the rise. Just 20 years old, Pak single-handedly put Korea on the golfing map and inspired thousands of little girls in her homeland.
Pak followed her Rookie of the Year campaign – which she wrapped up nine weeks before the season ended – with six spectacular seasons that included 18 victories (two of them majors), millions of dollars and added pressure and fame. Plagued by injuries in 2005, Pak fought her way back the next two seasons, winning twice and qualifying for the LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame.
But years of being in the spotlight and living under a microscope – especially from a dedicated, obsessive and demanding horde of Asian media – took its toll on Pak. She struggled with the constant pressure, and the inevitable happened.
The constant travel, demands from media, fans and sponsors and rigors of competing against the best in the world wore her down. It was a difficult time for the superstar.
“It’s not easy being a Tour professional and playing week to week,” said Pak, who stands sixth on the LPGA career money list with more than $11.3 million in earnings. “I’ve always loved to play golf, but traveling-wise – no matter how long you’ve played on Tour – it’s still not easy. When you’re (always) packing, unpacking and living in a hotel week to week, that’s the most difficult part of golf, I think. It’s a lot of work.”
The times she was down taught Pak much about golf, as well as life.
“I learned that I have to take the best care of myself and not worry so much about my golf swing or practicing,” Pak said. “I think that’s why I got burned out, and that’s why I wasn’t enjoying going to the golf course and all of a sudden everything changed. I was so tired, but I was never thinking that way that I was tired.
“I had that time where you are down and don’t know what’s going on and are probably going the other way. There was a lot of stress (because of) all that, but at the same time, I was thankful because I’d never ever had it before. If I didn’t have any of that (down) time, I don’t think I would be back again.”
She is thankful for what the time out of the spotlight gave her – perspective.
“That time made me think about what I’d done, what I do and what was wrong,” she said. “You just see how (nice it is) to get that quality time to rest, and I learned a lot in that time. It was great, because I know how much fun it is to be out (doing things), not only for golf, but in my life. I’m very thankful and grateful for having that time for me.”
The last four seasons have been another down slope on her roller-coaster ride of a career. While Pak notched 12 top-10s from 2008-11 and won her 25th tournament in 2010, it was only marginal success compared to her previous achievements.
With her newfound perspective, Pak was able to take the “sub-par” seasons in stride.
“Of course it was disappointing because I was up there (at the top) for a long time, and it was going the other way and I was down for a couple years,” Pak said. “But everybody goes through that, and I’m not the only one (who’s had) that trouble.”
Now a steely, happy veteran, Pak came into the 2012 season at peace, focused and ready to go. She’s 2-for-2 on cuts made and says she is in the best place mentally she’s ever been to start a season.
“I feel probably the best ever to start the season, mentally, physically – everything,” Pak said. “I feel so great, so this season will be good. Things right now are going perfectly my way, and there’s no complaining at all.”
Some time away from the Tour – and with her family – helped recharge Pak in the offseason. She also practiced with her father, who was her first coach, to get back to the basics of the game that took her to the top.
“I took about a month off,” she said. “My whole family came from Korea, and we spent time together in Orlando and Palm Springs. We had a great time. It was the first time in a long time that everybody got together. It was really fun.”
She doesn’t know, exactly, how long she wants to keep playing, saying that she will let the circumstances dictate when she ends her illustrious career.
“There’s really no answer,” Pak said. “I’d say three to five more years, but you never know. It could change from three to five and five to 10, but you don’t know.”
What she does know is that she’s healthy, happy and hungry for another season on Tour. And that’s music to the ears of her multitude of fans.