Posted: June 19, 2015 12:30 am
The crude stereotype goes something like this: Se Ri Pak won the 1998 US. Women’s Open, and every father in Pak’s native South Korea immediately bought their daughter golf clubs and lessons and club memberships.
A Korean invasion of the LPGA tour soon followed.
It’s not wrong so much as simplistic.
Take Na Yeon Choi and Inbee Park, who went to elementary school together in Seoul in the early 2000s. Park started playing golf at age 10, and by 12 had moved to Las Vegas to pursue golf full-time. She attended national team-sports power Bishop Gorman High School and then spent about 15 minutes at UNLV before turning pro at 17.
A year later, she was U.S. Women’s Open champion.
Choi, 14 months older than Park, took a more conventional route. She turned pro at 17, played the Korean LPGA tour for four years and broke through in America in 2008, finishing 11th on the LPGA Tour money list with over $1 million despite not being a fully exempt tour member.
Together in the U.S., their golf games diverged. Park graduated from Kwangwoon University in Seoul. She married her swing coach, and they underwent a major swing change, in the hope of eventually elevating her ball-striking to the surreal level of her putting.
Park didn’t win an LPGA event from the ’08 Women’s Open until late July of 2012.
During that stretch Choi won six times, including the 2012 Women’s Open. In 2010, Choi led the tour.
Then Park’s swing change took hold, and she began a steady rise that has included 12 wins and five major championships in 29 months. With her win in the Women’s LPGA Championship last week, Park emerged as not just world No. 1 but her sport’s clearly dominant player.
“She has a really good game, and she really wants to win,” Choi said Tuesday, after playing a practice round at Lancaster Country Club.
“She has so much confidence. It looks so easy for her.”
She said it admiringly, without apparent jealousy or battle scars from a rivalry that dates to early childhood. There’s no rivalry at all, evidently. Choi is No. 19 in the world, not exactly an underachiever.
Since Park had a chance to win the same major for the third straight year last week, her parents came to America from Seoul last week.
“As far as her golf goes, it didn’t seem to affect her at all that they were there,” Choi said. “She just went out and did it.”
When it was over, Choi texted Park. The message was a brief one.
“I told her she was awesome,” Choi said.