Park, Pak not cut from same cloth Amateur winner shows other patterns in her golfing makeup

August 18, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The most obvious comparison during Grace Park's victory Sunday over Jenny Chuasiriporn in the 98th U.S. Women's Amateur was to Se Ri Pak.

But the similarities between Park and Pak end in their South Korean nationality, the spelling of the last names and the fact that each beat the 21-year-old from Timonium for a national championship this summer.

Take your pick of where the differences begin.

Start with personality. On the course, Park displayed a few polite smiles and shy waves to acknowledge the appreciation of the fans at Barton Hills Country Club and the respect from her opponents.

Until sinking the winning putt last month to beat Chuasiriporn in their 20-hole playoff at the U.S. Women's Open, Pak was as detached as a toll-taker on the interstate after an 18-hour shift.

"We grew up differently," said Park, who has known Pak for seven years.

Meaning, Soon Nam Park didn't leave the middle of his three children in a cemetery overnight as a 12-year-old to make her, as Pak has described it, "have no nervous."

Park and his wife, Jin Ae, are both longtime golfers with single-digit handicaps who started then 8-year-old Ji Eun (her Korean name) in their favorite sport.

But make her stay in a cemetery?

"Totally different life," said Soon Nam Park, who owns a steel company in Seoul. "I have never pushed her at all. I always teach Grace always love the game."

About the most questionable thing Park's parents did was pack her off to the United States at 11, first to live with an aunt in Hawaii and then with a South Korean family in Phoenix.

Their now famous daughter welcomed the move, saying that she didn't mind getting away from her parents for a while. When her new friends in Honolulu had trouble pronouncing her name, Soon Nam suggested Grace.

"It fits her," he said.

While Pak's swing is the byproduct of 12-hour days spent on the range at the school of guru-to-the-stars David Leadbetter outside Orlando, Park's is more natural, a female version along the lines of an Ernie Els or Fred Couples.

"She has a beautiful swing," Chuasiriporn said after Park beat her 7 and 6, the second one-sided defeat the Duke senior has taken at the hands of the Arizona State sophomore this summer.

Park has had a number of teachers, most recently working with Mike Lebauve of Kierland Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. But Park goes to Lebauve to tweak her swing just once a month.

"Her parents are responsible for Grace's ability, not me," said Lebauve, who caddied for Park at the Amateur. "Give them the credit."

While Pak seemingly has burned herself out a bit by playing too much this summer, competing nearly two months in a row, Park took two weeks off and didn't touch a club while visiting her aunt in Hawaii. Despite strong legs that give her much of her power, Park is clearly not a fitness gym rat.

"I like to do other things other from golf," said Park, who beneath the poised persona that makes her already seem like a pro is a 19-year-old who likes to hang out with her friends. "I like to go shopping, do girl things. Have fun."

While winning bundles of low-level junior tournaments on the way up, Park was noticed for the prodigious length of her tee shot and the high flight pattern of her ball. Her talent is apparently coming together this summer, with the Amateur her third national title in the past two months.

"I think it's still the beginning," said Park.

While she looks like she can step right into an LPGA event, Park plans to return to school in a few weeks for college. How long she stays an amateur might depend on how she does in the next year.

"She wants more education," said Soon Nam Park, who plans to return to Korea next month as his wife takes a turn living near their daughter. "She knows better what is good for her when it comes to golf. It's her choice. It's her life."

Said Grace Park: "When I think I'm ready to have the best rookie year anyone has ever had, then I will make that decision."

Then the comparisons to Pak will be made.

And again, the differences will be even more noticeable.

Pub Date: 8/18/98

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