Se Ri Pak: A Solid Second Round Leads to a Life Examined

It’s just more enjoyable, I learn to understand more golf.  I find my game, I find my life.  Everything is just all together, and it’s probably the best time.  It’s just great to be out here. – Se Ri Pak

Do you remember the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open when, Se Ri Pak managed to win a two-hole playoff over Duke junior, Jenny Chuasiriporn? Improbably, they were two 20-year-olds who had no chance on Thursday.

For the Americans, Jenny was like a phoenix rising out of nowhere, a fresh-faced kid having more fun that the circumstances would have suggested, a player we would be watching for years.

And for the Koreans watching half a world away, Se Ri represented the possibility of a lot of young girls. To this day, even though she’s only 36 years old now, there’s not one of those little girls who doesn’t think of Se Ri as the Godmother of Korean golf. And at the end of this second day of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA’s first major of the year, Se Ri felt that way too.  

It began with her description of the day’s 2-under round of 70 at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California (the place that Indio has by the throat according to years of color commentators). That got her into the lead at 7-under and Lexi Thompson would tie her in the afternoon round:

It’s the same as yesterday.  I got really solid.  Everything has just been really solid.  I kept it fairways, greens, always the goal every hole, and I kept it really nicely, and from the fairway, on the greens, which was the right place to be.  You miss, and — I had a lot of opportunities today, but putting is not as good as yesterday, but still, really just really smooth, solid round today, so I’m really happy about the way I finished.

Her round was as smooth as she said it was; an opening par and two birdies on 2 and 18 and all pars in between. But it looked so easy it didn’t look like she was working very hard:

It doesn’t look like I worked really hard to make birdie, but I am.  After the second hole of course I’m happy for the birdie, and of course it gave me a lot of confidence heading to the rest of the round. And same thing, I hit it really well and have a great opportunity, have some short putts there that I mis‑hit, but it just happens to be one of those days, but it kind of bothers me a lot that I missed so many short putts.

However, this week, today, it just doesn’t really matter for me.  I got really relaxed out there.  Just the way I’m playing, I’m so happy about the way it is, so I guess that makes it — my mind is more clear to be ready for the next shot every hole.

I don’t have any great up-and-downs, either.  Everything has been so smooth the way I want it, so overall, like I said, happy to be bogey‑free.  Yes, under par, have a great chance, but really happy about the way it is.

With all of her experience, how does it feel to have the lead now as compared to when she was a 20-year-old?

Well, I mean, always really good to be on top, atop the leaderboard.  I’m down here many times, but it’s backed off a little bit the last couple years.  But it doesn’t really make any differences.

Heading to the weekend, of course, I need to just focus on my own game and play as best as I can and just make some — of course I’m going to probably — during the tournament it’s got to be some unusual mistakes here and there, but you have to move on.

Golf is a really silly game and fun and a hard game.  I know I learned a lot the last 17 years, been so many great up-and-downs, good day, bad day, okay day, all those things can happen in playing 18 holes.

Just the weekend, probably the same thing, just go out and do our best and focus as much as I could.

But does she still feel nervous even after all of her experience?

I think all the great experiences helped my game be more relaxed, instead of having pressure on it, because as I said, if I don’t have any of these moments before, probably I am [nervous].  But I have so many times been up top, so that makes me a lot of good experience.  I know what I’m doing, and I know what to do.  So that probably helps a lot.

And this is where her reflections on her life innocuously began, with a question about whether old feelings came back to her:

Like right now, I just feel so calm.  I don’t know why, just excited.

But normally I give myself a lot of pressure, just trying to do so hard the golf course.  I’ve been here so many times I know what exactly I need to do.  That gives me a lot more pressure, and having a lot of hard time myself.

But this week this is probably the best moment — like it just feels good.  Just feels really calm, go out there, just everything seems to feel comfortable.  It just makes me so easy.  I don’t know why just making everything throughout the round has been so perfect, so that’s a perfect feel for me.

Have the years given her perspective on the Kraft Nabisco, does it have more meaning to her now?

It is, it is.  Just being week to week, tournaments, tournaments, like 17 years.  So many things going through, but this week, I don’t know, it’s just such a hard time to get totally focused at this event to not have a great time and have an easy week.

But this is the one I’m always looking forward to and have always been — as I said, just one of those dreams to make my own.  This week is a most important time for me, but as I said, just trying to take it a little back and trying to think about just the week of the tournament and own my own best, and hopefully on Sunday giving a great big smile to myself.

This would be her sixth major if she manages to give “a great big smile” to herself. Would it have more meaning at this point in her career as opposed to earlier?

I think earlier, at that moment actually I was — I can’t remember too much things about it.  I don’t know my game is good, I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s just week to week I just play as a rookie, winning, move on.

But now all the great experience I have, I now understand the game of golf.  I learned a lot from golf, being myself, my game, my life.  Right now it’s meaning more than earlier.

I have such a great career earlier at such a young age, but right now this moment is probably the best moment I’ve ever had.  It’s just more enjoyable, I learn to understand more golf.  I find my game, I find my life.  Everything is just all together, and it’s probably the best time.  It’s just great to be out here.

Is that true for the rest of her life now too?

As a golfer and as a normal life.  Everything I’m used to put, all about golf.  I don’t have my life, I don’t have my own social life at all.  Always been put everything into golf.  It just makes me — I guess that’s why I have so much of a different way of going backwards instead of move on.

So then one moment all of a sudden I just hate golf.  I’m here still at the golf course, I don’t know why I’m here, I don’t want to be here, but I’m still here.  I don’t understand why I keep doing this.

About half a year, year off timing, and then I find out everything besides golf I was — I’m a lucky person.  I have such great friends around.  My life has been perfect.  I never realized how good I am.

That’s why I’m trying to find better balance, which is pretty hard, though, because I always spend so much on the golf.  I don’t know which is good balance, which is bad balance, which one is in between. But now I just thinking about myself more than the game. And now looks like getting easy to be my life and my game; which is get it all together and then make sure everything all comes together.

This probably takes 16 years of learning, so just about starting.

And one of the nicest rewards of being the trailblazer that she was is that all the young women who followed her to the United States now inspire her. They remind her of herself when she was their age and it helps her to draw strength in who she’s become.

Actually they give more energy for me.  If I can’t see them, it just — they remind me I was that young age.  The first time I came to U.S., I’m trying to find my game, trying to be the very best golfer, and then when I look at them, it just — everything is such great pictures.

I know how they feel, I know what — it’s just everything comes to me.  That’s why I’m keeping still in Tour because seeing them just makes me — it’s just great mental game, like totally mentally it’s a great game, but I see them help my whole game.

And, interesting enough, Lexi used the same mindset to tie Se Ri, but hers allowed her to thunder up the leaderboard with an 8-under 64 without a bogey on the card. But it began last week for her at the Kia Classic:

I just went into last week and just tried to have fun out there, laugh in between shots, get my mind off the game, and same thing with this week.  Just go out there and relax.  Even though it’s a major, it’s just a golf tournament, so just going out there and having fun. [After her last round, she autographed and gave her shoes away to a young girl.]

I feel really comfortable on this golf course.  I always say this is my favorite tournament of the year, just coming here it’s so beautiful, like really nice weather, and the fans are amazing.  I really enjoyed this week out of the year probably the most out of them all.  I get to hit a lot of drivers, so I just aim up the right side and hit my little draw.  I really enjoy it out here.

I wouldn’t say I saw there was something special going on, I was just trying to stay in the moment and focus on each shot, not really think about what I was shooting.  But yeah, I had the same confidence over every shot, just committing to my line and just being confident over every shot or every putt, and I just tried to do that the whole way throughout, even at the beginning of the round.

She’s been playing in majors since she was 12 years old and she’s learned a little bit about what it takes to do well:

I would say the biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is just staying patient.  Majors, they don’t shoot crazy low in majors usually, so even if you’re just parring, missing a few birdie putts, you just have to stay patient with it and know you can take advantage of a few holes and get the birdies there, and that’s what I’m kind of realizing here.

You have plenty of birdie holes out there, so even if you miss a few birdie putts, you’ve just got to keep on plugging away and get those looks with the birdies.

What was the process like in learning to be patient?

Yeah, I think that’s definitely a huge learning process I’ve gone through because sometimes I’ll have a good amount of birdie chances and miss a few and get a little impatient.

As long as you’re hitting it well and you get those looks, you just have to tell yourself that they’ll fall eventually and just go out with a confident attitude.

In other words, just keep going and keep believing.

To have this very attractive pairing on Saturday with all these dynamics flowing is a pretty good deal.

But it’s made even better by the fact that a surging Michelle Wie is just one stroke back, a determined looking Christie Kerr is one back of her and tied with China’s, Shanshan Feng, and last week’s winner, Anna Nordqvist is one back of them and tied with Catriona Matthew and Morgan Pressel.

It should be a great day.

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