Se Ri Pak

In the years Before Se Ri Pak, professional women’s golf in Korea was essentially non-existent. In the years After Se Ri Pak, women’s golf exploded.

Se Ri Pak, the 38-year old golfer from Daejeon, South Korea, recently announced her retirement. “I learned a lot and I’m trying to share all my skills and all these dreams,” she said. “So that’s where I plan to be the next step of my life. I just want to make dreams come true.”

Pak is already making dreams come true. In fact, one could say, she was the dream for young Koreans, and by extension young Asian women, in the game of golf. When golf returns to the Olympics since its last appearance in 1904, 60 of the best golfers in the world will compete, with a limit of the top four from each country. In the current 2016 Olympic rankings for female golfers, South Koreans make up an amazing four of the top 7 golfers who qualify for Rio. And if you look even closer, 9 of the top 15 are Asian.

“I remember watching [Pak] on TV,” said Christina Kim, a South Korean-American golfer. “She wasn’t blond or blue-eyed, and we were of the same blood…. You say to yourself, ‘If she can do it, why can’t I?'”

In the book, The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown, Daniel Coyle wrote about Kim, Korean golfers and Se Ri Pak, and called the explosion of talent in Korea an “ignition”. You could be dedicated to developing a skill by practicing consistently and earnestly. But you don’t burn for excellence. You don’t understand what it means to drive yourself to perfection. You never portray your desire as a willingness to die to be the very best.

Until a Hero emerges.

Se Ri Pak 1998.jpg

In South Korea, Se Ri Pak emerged. When she hit the professional stage, Korean women were ignited! Coyle writes,

For South Korea’s golfers, it was the afternoon of May 18, 1998, when a twenty-year old named Se Ri Pak won the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and became a national icon. (As one Seoul newspaper put it, “‘Se Ri Pak is not the female Tiger Woods; Tiger Woods is the male Se Ri Pak.”) Before her, no South Korean had succeeded in golf. Flash-forward to ten years later, and Pak’s countrywomen had essentially colonized the LPGA Tour, with forty-five players who collectively won about one-third of the events.

As Coyle explains, ignition is “an awakening”, “lightning flashes of image and emotion”, “the set of signals and subconscious forces that create our identity; the moments that lead us to say that is who I want to be.”

It’s spelled “Pyeongchang”, but apparently, IOC officials have taken to spelling it “PyeongChang”.

CamelCase strikes!

But why?

Map from the New York Times.
Map from the New York Times.

Who knows. I suspect the reason is – even if you had the slightest memory that PyeongChang was hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 2018, you might confuse it with Pyongyang in North Korea. In fact, according to this New York Times article, IOC members actually did confuse the two in the initial bid for the 2010 Winter Games.

So the host in 2018 is PyeongChang, South Korea, not PyongYang, North Korea. Having said that, PyeongChang is not far from North Korea, and a large number of its inhabitants had parents who escaped from North to South in the early 1950s, with the hopes that a resolution to the Korean War would allow them to return. Instead, they remained in the part of Korea that would continue to be one of the least developed in the country.

And yet, as time passed, Koreans appreciated more and more the winter beauty of the Gangwon Province, where Buddhist Temples and ski lifts abound. South Korean officials have been driving the vision that PyeongChang will again place South Korea on the map, completing a sporting cycle – hosting the track and field world championships, the World Cup and both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games – as well as revitalize a part of Korea that has languished economically.

While the mountain events will take place in PyeongChang proper, the indoor events will take place in Gangneung by the Eastern seaboard of Korea, about 30 kilometers away. Not only will world-class facilities be developed, a high-speed railway system is also being built to transport people between the two sporting venues in less than 30 minutes.

So remember, it’s PyeongChang, not Pyongyang, and it’s Gangneung, not Gangnam.