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20/20 Unflappable rookie Se Ri Pak and easygoing amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn, both 20, played 20 extra holes before Pak became the youngest U.S. Women's Open champion

July 13, 1998
July 13, 1998

Table of Contents
July 13, 1998

Boxing [bonus Piece]

20/20 Unflappable rookie Se Ri Pak and easygoing amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn, both 20, played 20 extra holes before Pak became the youngest U.S. Women's Open champion

The face of golf is getting younger and younger, and perhaps the
best of the young women is Se Ri Pak. At last week's U.S.
Women's Open in Kohler, Wis., the 20-year-old South Korean
sensation overcame the diabolical Pete Dye-designed Blackwolf
Run, which was punching out double bogeys the way the nearby
plumbing-fixture factory punches out faucets. While shrugging
off putting lapses that would have sent a less serene player
around the bend, Pak also conquered the player who appeared to
be destiny's child, amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn, also 20, whose
silky game and nothing-to-lose approach made her immune to the
maddening effects of the most demanding championship that the
women play.

This is an article from the July 13, 1998 issue Original Layout

Pak would have been forgiven if she had lost her grip. Shortly
after making bogey from the greenside rough at the 71st hole on
Sunday, she heard the roar from the 18th green after
Chuasiriporn holed a spine-chilling 45-foot birdie putt to tie
for the lead. Then Pak missed a 10-foot birdie putt for the win.
It left the two women tied at six-over-par 290, the highest
winning score at the U.S. Women's Open since 1984, when Hollis
Stacy won with a two-over 290 at Salem Country Club in Peabody,
Mass.

The pressure was clearly on the favored Pak going into Monday's
18-hole playoff, but she found a way to diffuse it. Speaking in
fractured English, Pak said of Chuasiriporn after Sunday's
round, "She is my age, that is why maybe we are like friends,
like more close. So maybe tomorrow feel like practice round."

Anything but. On Monday, Chuasiriporn, a senior at Duke, picked
up where she'd left off, holing a 30-foot birdie chip on the 1st
hole, and after two more birdies she was a surprising four
strokes up going to the par-3 6th. There, however, her
impressive swing failed her, as she pulled a nine-iron into a
water hazard and three-putted for a triple-bogey six that cut
the lead to one.

Pak was two down going to the 11th tee, but she stalked the
amateur with flawless tee-to-green play, birdieing three of the
next four holes to pull ahead. She bogeyed 15 to fall back into
a tie, though, and they were still even at the par-4 18th, where
Pak made her worst swing of the day--a quick pull that rolled
down the bank of a water hazard. After a lengthy deliberation
she took off her shoes and, while standing in the water, hacked
the ball across the fairway into the right rough, still 140
yards from the hole. From there she hit an eight-iron to within
20 feet. With victory in her grasp, Chuasiriporn yielded to the
pressure, hitting her 45-foot chip so hard that she spun around
in disgust a moment after impact. Both players made bogeys,
Chuasiriporn missing from 12 feet. "I thought that was going to
be it," she said. "But my hands were shaking--a lot." For the
first time, the Women's Open championship would be decided in
sudden death.

Chuasiriporn had another chance right away but left a 60-yard
pitch 30 feet short at the par-5 10th to again let Pak off the
hook. "I could feel it slipping away," Chuasiriporn admitted
afterward. On the second extra hole she took a strong run at an
uphill 20-footer, but when she missed, "I really had a sixth
sense she was going to make hers." Always trust a woman's
intuition. Pak drilled home her longest putt of the day, an
18-footer, to become the youngest woman to win two majors in one
year.

If there was any doubt two months ago, when Pak won the
McDonald's LPGA Championship in a wire-to-wire performance to
become the youngest winner of a women's major in 30 years, it's
evident that she is ready to contend for the No. 1 spot in the
women's game. With her victory at Blackwolf Run, she became the
youngest champion in Women's Open history and the first woman to
win back-to-back majors since Meg Mallon took the same two
events in 1991. She also joins Juli Inkster as the only rookie
to win two majors in a season. Although two-time U.S. Open
winner Annika Sorenstam still stands atop the women's game and
Karrie Webb remains the most talented player, Pak seems to
possess the mental toughness of the former and the fluid
mechanics of the latter. She may also be the hungriest of all.
"I want to be the best," she says unabashedly. "That is my dream."

Born in Taejon, South Korea, Pak was a schoolgirl sprinter,
hurdler and shot-putter before turning to golf at 14. Over the
next four years, under the guidance of her father, Joon Chul, a
former professional baseball player and avid golfer who runs a
small construction company, Se Ri won more than 30 amateur
events in Asia. She turned pro in 1996 and won six Korean LPGA
events. In December of that year she signed a 10-year
endorsement contract with Samsung, and in early '97 moved to
Orlando to work with David Leadbetter, whom Samsung paid a
first-year salary of $120,000. Last July she finished 21st in
her first U.S. Open and in the fall tied for first at the LPGA
qualifying school. By that time she was known throughout Asia as
the female Tiger Woods.

Pak is 5'7", 147 pounds, with the powerful thighs and trunk of
an elite athlete and the discipline to match. At Leadbetter's
academy, Pak routinely puts in 10-hour days. Beyond a smooth
action that evokes the swing of Ernie Els, the instructor is
most impressed with Pak's temperament. "She's calm, doesn't
berate herself and actually seems to like pressure," says
Leadbetter. "My biggest problem with Se Ri is keeping her from
working too hard."

At night she works hard on improving her English with a taped
lesson plan. "Se Ri knows that if she is going to be a
breakthrough athlete for Korea, she has to be fluent," says her
manager, Steven Sung Yong Kil. "She wants to be comfortable in
America." He says that on the Fourth of July, Pak noticed
celebrations going on in several Kohler backyards and explained
the significance of the holiday to her parents.

Although she has finally started to grow tired of the Korean
journalists who follow her every move at tournaments, Pak
otherwise seems comfortable in public. At a Chinese restaurant
in Sheboygan, where she ate dinner four times last week, she was
gracious on Sunday when a group of locals interrupted her meal
to ask for autographs. "She likes the attention," says Kil. "She
knows this is part of being a champion."

Her resolve is most apparent on the course. Moments after
Chuasiriporn dropped the bomb to tie on Sunday, Pak responded by
ripping a drive down the middle of the 18th fairway. Asked about
tension before the playoff, she said, "No, I don't have nervous.
Golfer, we don't know, we don't know tomorrow. After we finish,
we know."

Stoic on the course, Pak has a sweet demeanor off it, but her
greatest challenge may be finding nurturing friendships. To fill
such a void last month she bought a beagle puppy. "Se Ri is
lonely, and this is why she got a dog," says Kil. "She named it
Happy, because that is what she wants to be."

Pak was a little upset when the pooch took ill in Kohler and had
to stay with a vet, but on Monday evening the dog was in her
arms as she headed to Toledo in a private jet for this week's
LPGA stop. "I have many years left, so I just keep doing and
doing," Pak said. "I am not Number 1 yet, but I have a good
start."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM GUND Fit to Be Thai-ed Jenny Chuasiriporn, a U.S.-born amateur whose parents are from Thailand, gasped in disbelief after sinking a 45-foot birdie putt at 18 to force a playoff with Si Re Pak in the U.S. Women's Open (page 44). [Jenny Chuasiriporn holding hand over her mouth in front of gallery--Leading Off]TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER On the line Chuasiriporn (right) kept the heat on, but she couldn't stop Pak from winning her second consecutive major. [Jenny Chuasiriporn; Se Ri Pak]