The last lengthening shadows that lingered around the 18th green at CordeValle Golf Club on Friday evening would usher a brilliant sunset and be the perfect stage for an icon’s farewell. Se Ri Pak completed her second round of the U.S. Women’s Open at the CordeValle Golf Club and would not make the weekend cut, but she leaves behind an indelible footprint on the game of golf.
38-year old Pak who announced her retirement from competitive golf at the end of this year, played her final round in the U.S. Women’s Open which had been such an instrumental event in her almost 20 year career on the LPGA Tour. Pak was a pioneer in Women’s professional golf and the first player from South Korea to become a global star.
In her breakthrough year in 1998, Pak won both the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open which were her first two wins on Tour in a year in which she won 4 times and was the Rookie of the Year. Pak would go on to win 25 times, including 5 Major titles, and be enshrined into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2007, becoming the youngest player ever to be so honored.
Pak’s influence on the game rivals that of any other player in the history of the game. Today there are over 40 South Korean players on the LPGA Tour whose number includes 4 of the last 5 winners of the U.S. Women’s Open who hail from the “Land of the Morning Calm”.
All of who can trace their golf lineage to Pak.
After the third round of this year’s U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle in San Martin, California, three of the top 5 players on the leaderboard were South Korean: Sung Hyun Park, Eun Hee Ji and Amy Yang. Park and Ji were tied for second at 6-under par while Yang was a stroke back at 5-under and tied for 4th (with American Brittany Lang). The overnight leader at 7-under par was World #1 and 19-year old sensation, Lydia Ko, a naturalized New Zealander who was born in South Korea.
The 71st edition of the oldest major Championship for women would come down to the final 9 holes. Ko would uncharacteristically unravel after taking a two shot lead midway through the final round and played a 6 hole stretch in 5-over par to end her chances.
The round of the day was authored by Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist who played a flawless, bogey free, 5-under par 67 to be the clubhouse leader at 6-under par. Nordqvist had captured her 6th career tournament last month at our wonderful New Jersey golf school location at Seaview http://www.birdgolf.com/the-youth-movement/ and was looking to win her second Major Championship (she won the 2009 LPGA Championship). Nordqvist sought to become the first player in history to overcome a 6 shot Sunday deficit and win at the U.S. Women’s Open.
30 year old American Brittany Lang turned professional after her sophomore year at Duke University in 2005 but had to wait until her 154th event on Tour before breaking into the winner’s circle at the 2012 Manulife Financial Classic. Lang has always been a great ball striker and has also represented the United States on 3 Solheim Cup teams but putting has been her Achilles heel. Lang features an outside to in swing with an accompanying loop that would make her fellow Texan, Lee Trevino proud (see “recipe for”; great ball strikers).
Lang played the best golf of all the leaders on Sunday and made a series of clutch putts to take a 1-shot lead after a birdie on the par-4 17th hole, at 7-under. She would falter on the 17th when a 3-putt bogey dropped her back into a tie with Nordqvist at 6-under.
Lang and Nordqvist would go to a 3-hole aggregate playoff to decide this year’s Champion.
S.H. Park, Yang, Ji and Ko would all finish in a tie for 3rd at 4-under par. 22-year old, Park, who is not yet a member of the LPGA Tour, has now finished in the top 13 of all 5 events that she has played and fashions a swing that may be the best and most powerful; in all of golf. We will be seeing a great deal more of this prodigious talent.
But this Championship was to belong to Nordqvist or Lang.
After both players made pars on the first hole of the playoff, Nordqvist hit her drive into the fairway bunker on the left hand side of the fairway on the par-4 17th hole. Lang’s tee shot found the rough and her approach shot was well short of the green before she made a superb save for par.
Nordqvist played a great second shot that went just over the back of the green and matched Lang with an up and down for par; or what she imagined was a par. After the players hit their tee shots on the third payoff hole, TV replays of Nordqvist second shot to #17, showed that she had clearly grounded her club (touched the sand in the bunker) before hitting her shot and thereby incurring a two-shot penalty.
The last hole of the playoff proved anti-climactic as Lang made a par-5, while Nordqvist made an understandably disinterested, bogey- 6. For the record, Lang registered a 3-stroke win in the playoff.
The eyes of Texas were upon, you, Brittany, and they smiled.