Local knowledge is to golf what having the combination is to
safecracking: a big edge. Se Ri Pak reaffirmed that last week
when she won her third major championship, the Weetabix Women's
British Open, on a course so foreign to her that she almost
expected to see water run uphill and doves fly out of the cups.
"I don't have any idea how to play this kind of golf," she said
on Sunday after coming from four strokes back in the final round
at Sunningdale Golf Club to win by two over fellow Korean Mi Hyun
Kim. "But he knew."
He was Colin Cann, Pak's caddie. Cann lives just up the road in
breakfasty-sounding Egham, and he's probably the guy you want on
your bag when you play for big bucks in Surrey. "It's a very
different style of golf from what you have in America," Cann said
on Sunday. "Look at how this course changed every day. First it
was bone-hard, then soft and wet, the wind kept moving
That's England for you. Three years ago, in her only previous
appearance at the British Open, Pak slogged around Royal Lytham
and St. Annes in wind, rain and bewilderment. "I played so bad,"
she recalled on Sunday night. "I said to myself, I can't come
back, because it was so hard."
It was startling, then, to see Pak light up Sunningdale's
6,277-yard Old Course with a final-round six-under-par 66.
"Colin said English golf is fun," Pak would say later--and yeah,
the gnarly heather and goofy bounces are a treat when you're
winning $221,650 and the champion's crystal bowl. The hardest
part was the waiting. Pak spent a nervous 50 minutes behind the
18th green, under the famous Sunningdale oak tree, while 10
other players dragged themselves up the final fairway.
Meanwhile, Pak's mother, Jeong Sook Kim, patted Cann on the back
and said, "Good job!"
Good timing, too. This year the British became one of the four
major championships of women's golf, replacing the defunct du
Maurier Classic, and winning it left Pak only one title (the
Nabisco Championship) short of a career Grand Slam.
Did the Open feel like a major? Yes and no. At a major the
players act as if winning is more important than life itself.
They show up a week early to study the greens with a transit and
level, or cut out activities that don't directly contribute to
victory, such as dining out or reading bedtime stories to their
children. By that standard this Open seemed minor. Free-spirited
Laura Davies, needing only two points to qualify for the LPGA
Hall of Fame, hosted a 12-team soccer tournament in the yard of
her Surrey mansion, complete with painted lines, regulation goals
and a food-and-drink van. More shocking was the late arrival of
Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb. The tour's two best players
deplaned blinking on Tuesday night, hung over from their Battle
at Bighorn exhibition involving Tiger Woods and David Duval. "It
was not the ideal way to prepare for a major," conceded LPGA
commissioner Ty Votaw, but "it showed an enormous commitment on
their part to expose the LPGA to millions of viewers."
Votaw's opinion was not shared by David Davies of The Guardian,
who considered Webb's first-round 74 at Sunningdale insufficient
punishment for having agreed to play under floodlights in front
of yelling yahoos. "For Webb to put such a hollow occasion ahead
of trying to win her third successive major championship is
simply baffling," Davies wrote.
To be fair, Webb had more than Bighorn to blame for her lack of
form. Her grandfather, to whom she was very close, died in
Australia a month ago, leaving her unsettled emotionally. Webb's
swing was also out of sync at Sunningdale, and her disposition
wasn't much better. She threw her putter on one hole, pounded her
driver on the ground on another. Asked how many putts she had
taken on Thursday, Webb snapped, "You can count them." (Headline
in The Daily Telegraph: WEBB HER OWN WORST ENEMY.)
Even the infrastructure seemed to conspire against Webb.
Sunningdale's spacious practice range was being used for
tournament parking, so the players had only a warmup range with
limited tee space. "This isn't a driving range where I can set
up a camera and look at my swing," Webb said after rebounding
with a 67 on Friday, "so I have to count on feel. My swing
hasn't felt right in a while."
By Saturday, though, it was apparent that method of attack, not
mode of preparation, would determine the outcome. Sunningdale is
a heathland course with many of the properties of a links course,
including hard, fast fairways and capricious weather. It opens
with two easy par 5s but closes with three long par 4s. "The
finish is a tremendous test," says Cann. "Birdies are rare."
Webb bookended rounds of 67 and 68 with a pair of 74s and
finished 15th. Sorenstam struggled after a first-round 70 and
ended up 32nd. Laura Davies, who was in contention for three
rounds, bogeyed the first hole on Sunday when her ball hit a
rake--misplaced by "some cretin," she said--and bounced into the
sand. "The heart went out of me," said Davies, who shot 76 and
The troubles of the star players swung the spotlight to
Scotland's Catriona Matthew, who's having a breakthrough year in
the U.S. "Cat" holed out from the 18th fairway for eagle on
Thursday and clawed into the lead Friday with the help of a
216-yard hole in one on 15. On Sunday, alas, she was catatonic,
shooting 73 and slipping into a four-way tie for third. Tied with
her was Laura Diaz, who birdied the first six holes that day to
secure low-American honors.
The 23-year-old Pak, meanwhile, began her final round as if she
were playing a pro-am. "My caddie and I said, 'Nothing to lose
today,'" she said. "I didn't have any chance, so we had fun out
there." It was a far different Pak, in other words, from the
stressed-out young woman who failed to win in 2000 after winning
four times in each of her first two full LPGA seasons. "The first
two years [were] so busy, I don't know what happened. I was
looking very tight. But now I play, and it's fun."
The real fun started when Pak got to 14 and saw her name on the
leader board with that of Kim, her 24-year-old compatriot. The
5'1" Kim, who has a swing so big that the clubhead almost touches
the ground on her backswing, looks as if she should be selling
Girl Scout cookies, but she is a birdie machine and has three
LPGA wins. Pak, though, had the local knowledge. When Cann told
her to land the ball 20 yards short of a green, she did so, and
more often than not the ball bounced, hopped and rolled into
birdie range. "He knew the course," Pak said.
That was enough, because Pak knew herself. The cool Korean
birdied 17 and 18 for a total of 277, 11 under par. "Love my
job," said Cann, hugging Pak under the tree.
Love that British golf, said Pak, hugging the crystal bowl. "I
wasn't doing well this week, but right now I'm the last person
talking in the media center. Got a trophy." She grinned. "That is
a huge difference."
Correction, Se Ri. That is a major difference.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MARTYN MAYHOW/AFP
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN A jet-lagged Webb paid dearly for her lack of preparation.
"For Webb to put such a hollow occasion [as Bighorn] ahead of
trying to win her third successive major is baffling," Davies