Pak's legacy: Korean golf comes full circle as Choi achieves U.S. Open dream

Story highlights

  • Na Yeon Choi becomes fourth Korean in five years to win U.S. Women's Open
  • She watched Se Ri Pak win the same tournament at the same venue in 1998
  • Pak congratulates Choi after finishing tied for ninth at Blackwolf Run on Sunday
  • Choi's compatriot Amy Yang claims second place in the major tournament

When Se Ri Pak won the U.S. Women's Open in 1998, she could not have imagined the impact it would have on the golfing world.

Then 20 years old, and the only South Korean on the LPGA Tour, Pak won a titanic 20-hole playoff to claim her second major title in her rookie season.

She had won the LPGA Championship earlier that year, but it was her success at Blackwolf Run that triggered a phenomenal boom in female golfing talent in both her home country and Asia in general.

Four of the last five U.S. Women's Open champions have been from Korea, most recently Na Yeon Choi -- who on Sunday clinched her first major title with a four-shot victory over compatriot Amy Yang at the same course in Kohler, Wisconsin where Pak inspired so many dreams.

"That was 14 years ago. I was only 10 years old and when I was watching TV, my goal was ... my dream was like I just want to be there," Choi said on the LPGA website.

"And 14 years later I'm here right now, and I made it. My dream's come true. I really appreciate what Se Ri did and all the Korean players, what they did. It's really no way I can be here without them.

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"I really wish like 14 years later from now some junior golfer or some young Korean golfer says, 'I was watching on TV how Na Yeon was playing 14 years ago and that inspired me."

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Pak was there to congratulate Choi, having overcome shoulder problems to take her place in the starting field -- 29 of which were Korean.

The five-time major winner wrapped up a round of one-under 71, which was good enough for a tie for ninth, as Choi was playing at the adjacent ninth hole.

"I'm trying to give her a little look back, but I don't want her to lose her focus, so I'm trying to not give her a look," Pak said.

"But you know, she's already been there many times. She won five times (on the LPGA Tour) already, and of course, this is a little different than a regular event, but she's good enough to be out there, she hung in there."

Choi needed to hold her nerve after a triple-bogey at the 10th cut her lead to two shots, and responded with an immediate birdie before a 20-foot par-saving putt at 12 and some lucky bounces off rocks to avoid the water hazard at 13.

"That moment (the triple-bogey) maybe I thought I might screw up today, but I thought I needed to fix that. I can do it," Choi said.

"So I tried to think what I have to do. So I started to talk with my caddie about just like what airplane tomorrow, or about the car or about the vacation. Not golf."

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The top 10 featured just three American players, as 2010 winner Paula Creamer tied for seventh with Japan's Mika Miyazoto while 2007 champion Cristie Kerr and Nicole Castrale were alongside Pak on four over for the tournament.

Germany's Sandra Gal claimed third ahead of South Korea's Ilhee Lee, LPGA Championship winner Shanshan Feng of China and Italy's Giulia Sergas in fourth equal.

Defending champion So Yeon Ru of Korea was tied for 14th in a group including 17-year-old American Lexi Thompson, who was seeking to become the youngest winner of a major in either the men's or women's game.

She had been tied for third after 54 holes, but closed with 78 -- a better closing round might have made her a winner 10 days younger than Tom Morris when he triumphed at the British Open in 1868.

Former U.S. teen prodigy Michelle Wie faded from 13th going into the final round to a tie for 35th after carding 80.

She was a shot ahead of a group including 15-year-old Korea-born New Zealander Lydia Ko, who was the top amateur in 39th equal. Ko became the youngest player to win a professional tournament in January when still 14.

The world's top-ranked player, Yani Tseng of Taiwan, finished equal 50th alongside veteran former No. 1 Karrie Webb after carding a second successive 78.