Se Ri Pak’s locker at the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum features items and awards from her decorated playing career.
The Vare Trophy has been awarded each year since 1953 from the LPGA to the player with the lowest scoring average in the previous season. Named for World Golf Hall of Famer Glenna Collett Vare, who won six U.S. Women’s Amateur championships, winning the Vare has been an excellent indicator of future success as well. To date, all but seven winners of the award between 1953 and 2009 have been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
One of those winners and Hall of Fame Members is Se Ri Pak, who in 2003, made history with a 70.03 scoring average to narrowly beat Grace Park by just .08 points to become the first woman from South Korea to win the Vare Trophy. Pak, who finished behind Annika Sorenstam in 2001 and 2002, broke a nine-year stranglehold on the award held by Sorenstam and Karrie Webb. Her win extended the string of wins by international players that began with Sorenstam in 1995 and would continue all the way through Inbee Park in 2012.
Although she finished 2003 without a Major Championship, Pak put up some extraordinary numbers along the way, winning three tournaments – Safeway PING, Chick-fil-A Charity Championship and Jamie Farr Kroger Classic – in addition to six runner-up finishes, 20 finishes in the Top-10, and only one cut missed in 26 of the tournaments she played.
Pak, who retired in October 2016 after playing the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in Incheon, South Korea, left a lasting mark on the LPGA by finishing her highly decorated career with 25 victories on the Tour including five Major Championships. The impact she made on her native South Korea, however, is one that will continue to be felt for generations of golfers to come.
“Se Ri will always be remembered as the woman who led a historic rise of Korean women’s golf,” said LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan. “What she did was really wake up all of Asia to this opportunity, and she created a Tour for us that we couldn’t have envisioned back in 1997.”
Pak is credited with opening the door for an entire generation of Korean golfers. Scan the leaderboard of any LPGA tournament and you’ll no doubt see Pak’s legacy on display. Take So Yeon Ryu, the 2012 Rookie of the Year and winner of two Major Championships who ascended to World No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings for the first time in 2017.
As an eight-year-old in South Korea, Ryu started playing golf the very same week that Pak won the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open in a 20-hole playoff. Though not her first victory in a Major – she had won the LPGA Championship in May – Pak’s win was not only a turning point in her own life, but the U.S. Women’s Open is often cited as a watershed event in the advancement of golf on the Korean peninsula. Ryu recalls people asking her if she wanted to be like Se Ri Pak someday.
“Because of that, I started to get more interested in golf,” Ryu recalls. “Maybe without her accomplishment, I wouldn’t have been as interested in golf.”
Ryu credits Pak not only with paving the way for other golfers from South Korea to dream about playing on the LPGA Tour but with giving career advice that has helped her rise to the top of the Rolex Rankings.
“She told me that you have to keep a really good balance between golf and your personal life,” Ryu says. “That’s the only way you can enjoy golf and play it for a really long time. Without her advice, maybe I could be burnt out and not know it’s okay to take a break. She’s the one who opened the door for me and gave me the best advice.”
Whether through providing invaluable career advice or in leading by example, Pak’s legacy as a pioneer for Korean golfers is secure. Although her only Vare Trophy came in 2003, four other South Korean golfers have gone on to capture the award: Grace Park (2004), Na Yeon Choi (2010), Inbee Park (2012, 2015) and In Gee Chun (2016).
Travis Puterbaugh is the Curator of the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum in St. Augustine, Florida. He graduated from Loyola University of New Orleans with a B.A. in Communications, the University of South Florida with an M.A. in History, and has worked in the museum industry for 14 years. Travis considers getting to walk inside the ropes during Day One of the 2016 International Crown as the highlight of his time working for the Hall of Fame. Follow Travis on Twitter at @WGHOFCurator.