AUGUSTA: South Korean legend Pak Se Ri won five major titles and 25 LPGA events but dreamed of being a champion at Augusta National, where women weren’t even members until 2012 much less competing for trophies.
But with her ceremonial opening tee shot Saturday to launch the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the 41-year-old icon who sparked a host of talented women players from her homeland showed a new generation they can live dreams she never could.
“I dreamed about it, definitely, but Augusta National, women were never allowed to play,” Pak said after her historic tee shot, the first of four by LPGA legends from around the world.
“All the kids watching, they grow up, dreams of golf, but women can’t possibly play these events – but now it’s happening. That probably makes a lot more bigger dream for the kids. That’s really lovely.”
And Pak predicts the worldwide field will spark new dreams and careers in Asia and across the planet.
“I’m pretty sure this is going to be a really huge thing worldwide,” Pak said. “The kids watching on TV, they grow up the way they are seeing it, so this is going to give a huge impact and motivation for the kids being future golfers.
“It’s going to be incredible. It’s really great. I really love to see it happening.”
Pak, Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam, Mexico’s Lorena Ochoa and American Nancy Lopez were ceremonial starters at the event, which saw 30 women from a field of 72 qualify for the final 18 holes at the home course of the Masters in two rounds at nearby Champions Retreat.
“It’s going to be something they’re going to keep for the rest of their lives and also it’s going to be a great motivation for the new generations,” Ochoa said.
“This is as big as a tournament that you have in your mind, the US Amateur or the Olympics, that you dream you want to win.
“This is going to be a good motivation. The vision of having this event is really something that will change the perspective of women and also the way they see the sport.”
Ochoa had chills recalling the first tee moment.
“All the emotions, once you get up there, the people are cheering and clapping, all those moments, they come back and you get goosebumps,” she said.
“It was very special. I feel honored that they asked me to be part of this special group, and I’m going to remember this forever.”
Sorenstam and Lopez admitted they were in tears before hitting their tee shots.
“I know Annika was once we got to the tee,” Lopez said. “I was trying to hold back tears because there’s so much pride involved in this.
“Augusta National has always done it right. They want to grow golf and the way you grow golf is with amateur golf. I think it’s going to inspire a lot of young women.”
Sorenstam was overcome as well by the early morning reception for her brief but emotional role in the festivities.
“What a moment,” Sorenstam said. “I had a tear coming up on the first tee… here at the holy grounds of Augusta National. It’s fantastic and historic for sure.
“I think it’s going to have a great effect around the world. We’re trying to increase the interest in the game of golf and tournaments like this will certainly do it.”