Pak is already setting her course for life after golf
YOU can tell the mark of an all-time great athlete. She's already seeing three moves ahead.
No, the ending isn't in sight, not even way out there, on the horizon. Se Ri Pak is still one of the best players in the world. She was third at the end of yesterday's first round of the Fields Open in Hawaii, for goodness sake. She shot 5 under, one stroke off the lead.
She won the LPGA Championship in a dramatic playoff just last year.
Oh, she's still going strong, figures she won't be retired for "maybe 10 years." She's still a young woman -- well, everywhere but in Olympic ice skating, or women's gymnastics, or, these days, even in women's golf.
She's officially an elder stateswoman at 29. She's Korea's Beatles in golf's version of the British Invasion. They all were inspired by her, followed her. And she showed yesterday she's still got it. She isn't about to give it up.
But she has that great athlete's vision, that instinct, that court sense, that, as Dr. Evil would put it, "As the French say, that certain 'I don't know what.' "
She knows even for all-time great athletes, this ride has to end. Still near the top of her game, she's already thinking three moves ahead.
Today, Se Ri Pak tees off within one stroke of the Fields Open lead. Yesterday (OK, earlier this year) she'd already started positioning herself to be Korea's Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, in retirement, as well as on the links.
Those old pros design golf courses, are business dynamos, have business dynasties, to this day.
Se Ri Pak could someday be their equal on the other side of the world.
A shoo-in for the World Golf Hall of Fame when she reaches the 10-years-on-Tour mark any minute now, she recently officially decided to go back to school.
Not in the Rodney Dangerfield sense. In the what-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life sense.
At 29, Se Ri Pak is a sort of elder stateswoman on an LPGA Tour that is getting younger and younger.
With credit for her life experience in the world of professional golf and thanks to her grades early in life, she's been accepted to Seoul's Sookmyung Women's University, "which is not in the U.S.," Pak said. "So nobody knows much about it."
(Incidentally, this is the exact same answer I gave the Star-Bulletin, when asked about my own academic credentials. Um, it's not in the U.S. So nobody knows much about it.)
So many athletes are caught by surprise when it's over, have no idea what to do with themselves when their skills fade.
Se Ri Pak is near the top of the leaderboard again, but she's already talking about building her own golf academy, back in her own country. About acquiring the business acumen, the education, to make that work. About being ready, when this chapter of her life is over.
Of already thinking three steps ahead.
It was a tough decision, originally, when she was younger, whether to go to college or turn pro. It was the right decision, apparently. She was the only Korean on tour when she broke in in 1998, won two majors that rookie year. She made history, started a revolution, begot the great Asian invasion, is still in the midst of one of the all-time great runs.
"Ten years later," she said, "I know still I can't miss that opportunity for like long time ago, but this (going back to college) is a great chance."
She said, "I'm probably more benefit for my own life, later on going to get the business or my own success."
She's going to have lots to do in retirement. She's going to be ready. She sounds like a public service announcement on education. She's going to get her degree.
She's not really sure yet how that's going to work, with her crazy timetable, with the travel of an LPGA pro. The details of her schedule as a college student haven't been worked out. School in Seoul? Today she's back in Hawaii, for the first time in -- has it been eight years?
"A long time," Pak said.
Today she's trying to win a tournament. She worries about the wind. "So windy," she said yesterday, "I can't remember" her round.
She was kidding, of course. Whether it's 10 years from now or this afternoon, she'll be ready. Se Ri Pak has that certain I don't know what.