Se Ri Pak Stamps Herself As A True Pioneer In Golf

The end was coming and everyone knew it because Se Ri Pak said at the start of this season that this would be the final year of her glorious career, but it was still somewhat sad to see her retire from the game.

At the age of 38 and with the game trending more and more to players in their teens or early 20s, Pak knew it was time to put away the competitive clubs. She announced earlier in the year that 2016 would be her final season as a full-time player.

She played her final round last Thursday at the KEB Hana Bank Challenge in her home country of South Korea, carding an 80, but this really wasn’t about the score. She participated more as a ceremonial end, something to give back to the many people who helped her in her brilliant career and for current players to honor her. It is safe to call her a pioneer, maybe even a legend for all she did in the game.

She was the first from her country to play on the LPGA tour. She won 25 titles on the LPGA tour, including five majors, two of them in her first season in which she voted Rookie of the Year. She later became the youngest woman to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Game.

So her decision to leave competitive golf is truly historic because of the overall impact she had on the game. Her legacy is the players from her country that have been called Se Ri’s Kids. Six of the top-15 players on the 2016 LPGA money-winning list are from South Korea, including two in the top five – In Gee Chun (4) and Sei Young Kim (5).

“I think if we had no so-called Se Ri Kids, the Korean golf scene would be quite different today,” she said following her final competitive round. “When my career started to take off, I really wanted it to start with me but not end with me. Fortunately, it will continue with the so-called Se Ri Kids.

“I hope the so-called Se Ri Kids continue on and inspire other younger kids to continue to lead Korean golf and act as a trigger to further develop Korean golf. I think one of my biggest dreams at this point is for the next generation of players to continue to do well and continue to develop Korean golf.”

When the greats of the game decide to retire, there is always the question of whether they did so on their own terms or whether they stayed too long and lost their ability to excel at a high level. Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest player in the history of the National Hockey League, could still produce at a one-point clip per game, but he knew that wasn’t good enough by his own standards. So he left gracefully and never looked back on his decision.

Some great athletes find out that when they retire there is something missing in their lives. They become accustomed to a routine and can’t cope without out. Competitive golfers have a fairly set routine that culminates with a four-day competition and then it is on to the next event on the circuit. It’s kind of a nomadic life filled with highs and lows, in which only the players can truly appreciate it. Imagine winning a tournament, reaching a certain emotional plateau and then gearing down for the start of the next competition. In some cases, the mental aspect could happen following a bad round which requires a psychological transformation.

Pak didn’t have to wrestle with the demons of retirement because she had already made the decision in her mind to exit three years ago and allowed herself ample time to prepare for the finality.

“I have done everything I can as a professional, as a golfer,” she said earlier this year when she announced this season would be her last.

But it’s what she said after announcing her imminent retirement that was both profound and interesting.

“I took care of my golf, (but) I didn’t take care of myself,” she added. “My golf, it’s good. As a person I don’t think I’m good, not good enough.”

She first talked about that in 2005, but overcame that to pursue her career, but it clearly gnawed at her. The wholeness of the person is sometimes overlooked for the elites of the game. Because they are essentially playing in a bubble, only they can truly understand if they are developing and maturing as people. Pak essentially became her own critic.

When we see or watch athletes, we tend to forget they are people who have lives beyond the sport in which they play. Sometimes because of their fame and fortune, it is hard to view them in human terms. We only see them through a very narrow window, failing to truly appreciates they may have families and lives beyond just the game they play. So that’s another reason why Pak’s words earlier this year are a further reminder that sometimes athletic greatness comes with a price.

“Life not all about winning, losing, practicing and then winning, losing, practicing,” Pak said. “It’s balance, feeling right balance. It’s practicing life. I’m still developing myself, and I’m so far behind.”

Pak plans to give back to golfers in her homeland by giving them perspective. Her ascension to greatness made her a significant figure, but what she is able to impart about life may become her most notable achievement.

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