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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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In Sports

Herb Kohler and Blackwolf Run connect 1998 U.S. Women's Open champ Se Ri Pak, left, and 2011 champ So Yeon Ryu. (PHOTO: USGA Museum, Kohler Co.)

An oral history: The 1998 U.S. Women's Open at Blackwolf Run


Hanging on the wall of the Blackwolf Run clubhouse is a celebratory photograph of Se Ri Pak and the 1998 U.S. Women's Open trophy. Forever 20, Pak smiles widely, exhaustively. It took the then-LPGA Tour rookie 92 holes to best American amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn to win her second consecutive major championship and start a revolution.

That photo greets you as you walk down the stairs to the locker rooms at Blackwolf Run, where Se Ri Pak visited late this spring.

"I'm Se Ri Pak, but I'm basically born in 1998 U.S. Open at Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin," she said.

Girls in South Korea were awoken in the dark hours or watched Pak's victory on tape delay the next morning, then rushed to small driving ranges – stepping over all other interests.

Since that Monday in Kohler, and including Pak's other majors, a South Korean woman has won two LPGA Championships, two Kraft Nabisco Championships, three Women's British Opens and four U.S. Opens.

"All the Korean media called us 'Se Ri's kids' because every time we were watching her game and we grew up playing," said Na Yeon Choi, the world's fourth-ranked player.

The tournament had a global, lasting impact on the women's game but it also its share of individual moments that affected those who participated, and watched.

OnMilwaukee.com interviewed many of the key participants for an oral history of several key moments in the most influential women's golf tournament in the last 15 years.

The White Flags

Nancy Lopez entered the 1998 U.S. Women's Open in search of her first national championship and was coming off second place finish to Alison Nicholas the year before at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Oregon.

The World Golf Hall of Famer had already won three major championships, but the U.S. Open was her white whale, having finished runner-up four times and in the top 10 in four others.

At 41 however, it was becoming clear her window for winning a U.S. Women's Open was closing.

Lopez was paired in the first two rounds with Jane Geddes, the 38-year-old 1986 U.S. Women's Open champion, and 35-year-old Meg Mallon, winner of the 1991 U.S. Women's Open.

All three felt it was a tournament they could win – until they struck their first shots on Thursday.

Lopez: We tee off on the first hole. Jane Geddes hit first, hit down the left center of the hole, and Meg hits it dead right into that stuff over there on the right hand side, and I hit mine down the left center of the hole.

And so Meg starts to try and hit out of that stuff, and she hits her first shot, and it hits a tree and it goes further in the stuff, and I'm like holy cow. And I'm watching her, and you're in the U.S. Open - you don't want to see that on the first hole. So I went on, and I hit my shot up on the green, because the USGA official came and she told us to go ahead.

I kind of walked on up, and then I watched Meg hit again and not get out again. And so I decided to keep walking up to the green, because I was really not enjoying that. I felt so bad for her. And so I went on up, and then I can't see them anymore, but I see Jane hit. I see her ball up in the air, but it didn't get on the green. So I'm like what is going on down there? I didn't want to see it, so that's why I stayed at the top.

And I remember my caddie, Tom, looked down at me, and he says, he knew I was feeling uneasy, and he says, can I get you anything? I said, you got two valium?
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