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Se Ri Pak Talkasia Interview

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AR: Anjali Rao
SP: Se Ri Pak

AR: Hi, I'm Anjali Rao in Singapore. With me today is the South Korean golfing legend, Pak Se Ri. This is Talkasia.

AR: Pak Se Ri is known at home as the golf queen, and no wonder. She's won a whole host of majors including the US Women's Open and the LPGA championships.

SOT: I never think about being just playing sports. Just want to be always the best. The best of the best.

While the LPGA tour is now home to scores of her compatriots, Se Ri was the one that started it all, and despite a couple of very rough years, remains the undisputed driving force in Korean golf.

AR: Se Ri, welcome to talk Talkasia. It's great to have you with us. So the unhappy times which we will get to, I'm sorry, they do, they seem to have passed, and you seem to have returned to a winning form in 2006, so what's it like to be back?

SP: 06's been, I don't know, I just...a lot more exciting, a lot more relaxed, lot more happy person ever been. So I said 06 is the best ever for me. And then I just really believe it. This is the way I want it I guess.

AR: It was at the McDonald's LPGA tournament in 2006 where you scored that amazing shot, right, where you landed the ball just a couple of inches away from the hole and then you locked in with a birdie tap after that just a fantastic shot, what did it feel like to be able to get a shot like that, particularly in a time where you know you did have a lot to prove?

SP: Golf has never been perfect. Like the more chance you got, like more less pressure because that shot from the McDonald's was like over 200 yard shot there and I got 4 iron, which is long iron, and (WORDS?) and it's not easy light either and then left hand side, all the way from the green is all the water, all the travel out there, so basically for me was really less pressures. I mean you're not gonna expecting anything great, great shot. I mean all my personage wise being on the green and make a 2 putt, which is I mean make a chance, not birdie, the chance to be still alive. Basically that's my plan. And suddenly that shot just been probably the best shot I ever had in my career. So I can't believe that shot is I had.

AR: At one point you were the first woman in nearly 6 decades to make the cut into a men's tournament, what was it like going up against the guys?

SP: Fun actually! It was exciting, because it feels a lot different. Because as I said, the first ball I know I can't hit longer than them, and I know its gonna be totally different yardage then I'm used to play, and I know I'm not actually that strong than the guys. So basically chance-wise, I just play my own game. But on the other hand, the guys, I give them guys a lot of pressure, because they hate to lose to the girl.

AR: Of course, in anything!

SP: You know, all guys know that!

AR: In men's golf though, you know, nobody really talks with these goggly eyes about the young players as they do in women's golf. Doesn't it get annoying?

SP: I mean, we should respect -- it doesn't matter what age you are. I mean, because the part of the dream is that they're playing the tour which is not easy. So much pressure on it, they're best golfers in the world, it's not easy to be you know, be joined with it, in the PGA or LPGA. So basically they work hard to you know get there.

First time I came over to US, really tight, because I come from different country, or maybe age-wise maybe I was kind of too young for them, or just like, they always call me baby too but...Not anymore, but used to. But those stuff, but now I guess year after year, just being the game's different now, the player's, the attitudes are different.

AR: I guess the person that they now call the baby is Michelle Wie, and there are a lot of comparisons all the time with you because you're both from South Korea, she's partly or fully South Korean, but as far as success goes, she's nowhere near you yet. Do you think that when she gets a little bit older she will be a real threat to you?

I know that age wise, 17 or 18, just teenager, she should have some fun with her friends at the same time playing golf. Because I know the most important I learned these last 8 years -- it takes about really long time! - the most important thing I find out was, to just enjoy it, you know. Because the last 8 years I don't have my own time, there was no one to give me my own privacy, or give me any break, and suddenly I was burned out.

AR: When you started on the LPGA tour in 1998 you were the only Korean there. Now there are 32 of you. What is it do you think about this game and your countrywomen?

SR: Everybody ask me the same question but I have a hard time answering, because I know they're doing really. And I think we're naturally born that way. Because our country culture is a very difficult. Because we are so much things: respect, at the same time always hiding how we feel that's why the most biggest in golf is you have to take care the pressure on because starting from first year at 18, every week, all year long, play with the best golfers in the world, I mean, that's not easy, that's the most biggest pressure I ever had. And somehow

I think I, or not only me, all Korean player all such a young age, they really control well for the pressure. That's why they're really tough and they work hard at the same time.

That's why I think Asians, specially the Koreans, South Koreans because we're born in that way, we grow in that way, that's why it's all helping to play well.

AR: Is there a lot of rivalry on the female golfing circuit? You know, do people sort get jealous or bitchy with each other.

SP: oh yea, basically yes, I mean, you can't be always being too nice! I mean, at the same time, you can show nice, on the other hand the jealousy is there all the time. I mean, either I'm doing well, or Annika doing well, or somebody doing well that kicks me at the same time to go out there work more harder. I mean, that was a little jealousy about that too because I just want to be on top, I just want to be the best, I just want to be the great player. You have to have some jealousy. Otherwise you can't be on top you cant be win you don't want to be number one either. So you should have some jealousies. No matter what.

AR: After the short break, Pak Se Ri shares her views about the competition and talks about some of the people who have motivated her on and off the green.

SP: I really love my family, my parents. Inside my heart I am so much bigger, stronger because my parents and family.


AR: Welcome back to this edition of Talkasia, we're with the South Korean golfing star Pak Se Ri. Se Ri, you're from South Korea as we just said, where golf is still seen as the preserve of the elite and green's fees astronomical compared to other places in the world. Just take us through what it was like for you growing up there being a little golfer.

SP: First of all really I give my parents a lot of pressure too. Because as you said, the green fees, or coach or practice range we're using or practice ball, just really turns out money, you have to you know pay for it.

My parents never give up on me. I mean, they always support me and they always be there and stand strong for me. Even though right now same way. That's why, that's why... I'm here because my parents. Inside my heart so much bigger and strong because my parents, my family.

AR: Your practice regime sounds absolutely horrendous. I mean I was reading about how you used to get up at 5:30 AM to run up and down the 15 stories in your apartment block, forward and backwards. And that was even before you got down to the driving range where some days it would be so cold, that you had icicles in your hair. Did you ever not just think, god life's too short!

SP: My goals, no matter what I'm start doing, in business or sports star, just being make sure just number 1. I never think about being just playing sports. Just want to be always the best. The best of the best. That's why I'm doing it because just for me, because I just want to be number one. That's why I'm honestly, every single morning I wake up at 5:30, even my parents never know, I just wake up myself and even freezing cold out there, just nobody watching, dark outside, so scarey too, but I just am that way because of myself... just, just, I don't know why, I just want to do, I just like to be really strong person, I just want to be best.

AR: You moved to the US when you were 20 years old. You didn't know anyone there, you didn't know how to speak the language, but you still had to prove yourself on the course. Tell us about that time in your life.

SP: Season started and I met all new players I never know before, and they all speak English, basically, and I don't have any friends here, and I don't have my family here, so basically I'm very lonely. So that was the most difficult to be used to that. Because you know golf game is individual, as I said, I mean you can't be all the time be with someone. Team game's a lot better, is fun, but individual games is a lot more difficult because always you're lonely, myself. After practice, after golf course, go back to hotel myself, nobody in my room, I can't watch...well I turned the TV but I can't understand that. And basically what am I gonna do?

And I was like okay, you know what, just try to make friends. And try to speak little bit, say hi to them, that's it, hi and bye, good job, well done, whatever, that was easy to say that. And then was feeling little comfortable was getting okay, just getting confidence, is not too scary now to be close to people.

And then suddenly I won the tournament, which was that was the first major, for me when I won. And so much interviews going on, so much media, and everywhere, every week just being going really crazy because I don't know what to do. I mean I like to speak but I can't speak it's just, you know.... I mean, I don't know what to say. Always I have a translator right next to me but still it just don't...I'm not feels comfortable.

And one day I said to him, you know what? just don't say any word! Why don't just I do it? I just try to speak my own even I know it's gonna be very short, it's gonna be not too much going on. But just let me try. And then I start to try to talk to them for very little short sentence like feel good, I play well, and you know, just, just easy, basic stuff. Each week is different, I learn even one new sentence for English for every week, and that's why I get better and better and better. And then after 7 years now I speak lot better than 98.

AR: And you've said that your dad was a major influence in your life. Somebody else that you've also said really spurs you on is your fellow LPGA colleague Annika Sorenstam. But you have repeatedly come second to her. You know it's like second Se Ri Pak, second Se Ri Pak, over and over and over again. What has that done to you and your game?

SP: You know what I think? I think because of Annika, that's why I'm getting a lot more stronger too. Because if she's not there, she's not doing well, probably I say I'm taking very easily. Because I know she works so hard.

I know I don't want to be always being second because person I am was, hate it too, I hate to lose, I really doesn't...just bothers me so bad. But because of her I'm here, because I know how much I work hard to be get to number one.

AR: In 2004 you hit a very serious losing streak and you also had some injuries. Some people tagged you as washed up, you took some time away from the game. What happened to you during those years?

SP: First time ever, I hate to play golf and I don't know why to be I have to stand off at the tee and here we go again. You know, always for me it was so exciting to be after tee and exciting to be on the golf course, but somehow not anymore. 04 to 05 I just don't want to be out there in the golf course. I just don't want to see the golf course, I just don't want to be standing off the tee, I just don't like the traveling at the same time. Just, just everything really losing it. I feel everything's really negative, very sad, depressed, which is, I don't want see friends I don't want to talk to anyone, I just don't want to be, just want to be alone. Just want to go somewhere, nobody even there. Always thinking, just give me a break, give me a break.

SP: Now you feel you have to be go out there really play golf and just enjoy it. I mean the game of golf I know can't be a perfect, I'm always expecting it to be perfect so that's just so bad though. Now I know it can't be perfect but I have tomorrow and I have the future so just be a lot more relaxed and I know how to control myself now a little better than before. Even I didn't want so much as before but I think my game is a lot more consistent getting better and better mind and better mentally. So I think, I think I'm pretty happy to have little break time. I mean I know so much upset and so much hard time but I think I'm glad I had it.

AR: When you did decide to eventually come back to competing, how hard did you have to work? Because I imagine the pressure once you make a comeback is absolutely immense to show that you deserve to be there.

SP: Well I think everybody know, everybody here that will play golf or professional sports or what job or business, same thing, it's not easy. I know it's not easy to come back from all the struggling.

SP: I really still work hard as before is not a changing, but I think better planned for it. Before is always been like tons and tons of time and then I feel great. But now I say before 6, 7 hours has to be nonstop working and focus on it. And I thought that was gonna be best the way to do that but now I feel like better planning was okay you work 2 hours, 100% focused, and let's say extra 1 hour for what you need to work on like short game, weakness, and then you work for that, and after golf and just pack it up, leave it in the car, leaving at home and do something else. Being like to be stay home or watching TV or cleaning the house, or see the friends or having dinner together. You know that's, that's the better plan to do that, and next thing, next morning I'm so fresh and is same thing, do like 3 hours max and you're free.

AR: Coming up next, what it means to be a pioneer and a role model in her home land.

SP: Everybody say that they start playing golf because of me. Because of me, why?

AR: There's more Talk Asia with Pak Se Ri after this break, stay with us.


AR: We're back on Talk Asia with the South Korean golfing sensation Pak Se Ri.

So we talked a little bit about your dad and his influence over your life in 1999 he said to you, you were talking about boys, and he said okay in 10 years you can have a boyfriend. Golf now, that later was what he said. So you're almost there, 10 years on. Are you looking forward to life away from the game?

SP: I am actually, I am! I think I need it though. When you play sports you can't have boyfriend or girlfriend. I mean, I don't know why they say that.

AR: So that ring is not an engagement ring?

SP: No, this is not, no no no! hahaha.

But my parents is pretty much the same way, they want me to really focus 100% in a game. Even I have boyfriend I can't tell my parents because I know they hate it. So always being quiet and quiet, I know I have some guy friends but I can't talk to my parents and stuff like that. But now actually my parents want me to meet someone too.

AR: You're tremendously famous in your homeland in South Korea, what does it mean to you to know that people set their alarm clocks so they can catch you on the TV and watch you in action and you know who knows how many little girls look at you and can think of nothing better than be the next you.

SP: Well you know what? Believe it or not, here half the field are Korean players. And everybody said that they start playing golf because of me. So I know that makes me shocked too! Did I? Because of me, why?! I mean, you know why?

The other hand, it makes me very proud of it and I'm very happy to see that happen because they have their own dream.

AR: What do you think will be the thing that eventually makes you say, you know that was great, I've had a fantastic time, thank you very much everybody but now I'm hanging up my clubs and I'm not coming back and this time I mean it.

SP: You know easily think that way. You do really well, you really like to play, you really excited to be there. And suddenly you going the other hand, damn I hate to play golf, I give up I just don't want to play golf. For me, I do it many times too, I just like god what the heck it's just you know I'm done. Why don't I just think about do something else? But I just can't do it because I just really love this game.

Doesn't matter how much you want you never know next day. So as I said this game of golf is so weird kinda really just really strange game, but that's why I think I really love this game. I know I have so much time to think that way and I know many times trying to give up but I can't I still love the game.

But now I'm still probably same thing, turn around and go back to range. God, done, I'm finished, you know but I'm gonna came back tomorrow. So doesn't matter! Just being out there, most important thing is just trying to enjoy it all. Enjoy it.

AR: Se Ri, thank you so much for taking time out to speak to us today. And that wraps up another edition of Talk Asia from Singapore. With us today has been South Korea's golden girl of golf, Pak Se Ri. I'm Anjali Rao, I'll see you again soon.



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