KOHLER – Se Ri Pak toured around Blackwolf Run in late May, unable to play a practice round due to a damaged shoulder.
The woman who made her name at the 1998 U.S. Women's Open on the course served as a guide for countrywoman and defending champion So Yeon Ryu, who was making her first trip to one of Wisconsin's crown jewels. Ryu played and listened, while Pak walked and talked. She pointed out green subtleties and trouble areas, parts of Blackwolf Run that confounded players 14 years ago, and will again.
Paula Creamer, one of the world's premier players, couldn't help herself after a practice round and sought out course owner Herb Kohler.
Kohler remembered her saying "Most of the players are going to be able to hit the fairways, but wait until they get to the greens."
"She had a very difficult time chipping anywhere close to the pin," Kohler added. "Others are much more reserved in their reactions, but they all find it an intimidating experience."
It's quite a statement from Creamer, who won the 2010 U.S. Women's Open at fabled Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania, having mastered its renowned green complexes.
The greens Pete Dye created were – and will be – the story during championship week, even though the course will measure out as one of the longest ever played at sea level. Dye added 500 yards of length to a variety of holes, but USGA tournament director Ben Kimball said there will be more opportunities to score – especially along the back nine to promote some player movement, and excitement, over the weekend.
"I'll believe it when I see it," said Pat Hurst, who finished tied for fourth in 1998 at 8-over-par and is an 11-time LPGA Tour winner. "They like to set up a tough test. I'll believe it when I see it. I remember how tough it was back then. It was just unbelievably tough. The USGA is known to set up tough golf courses, so time will only tell how it's going to be."
Kimball and the USGA believe it will be true, thanks to new USGA thinking about the length of rough and newly added tee boxes.
"It gives us some flexibility the week of to mix and match on some of the teeing grounds," said Kimball, who noted 11 holes have different teeing options. "We definitely like to have flexibility built into as many holes as possible so when Mother Nature decides to throw us a curveball we can change our stance in the batter's box. I don't necessarily think that length is going to be an issue for the best players in the world, but with that being said I sincerely doubt that on any given day during the championship week you'll see the golf course play at a full length of over 6,900 yards."
Kimball feels the par 5, 10th hole will be reachable in two shots, and holes 13 through 15 were the easiest in 1998 and no major changes were made to that group.
It's one thing to set it up, and another to play it, as Ryu discovered working around and on the greens with Pak.
"Se Ri told me even the par or bogey is still really great score," Ryu said with a laugh. "The putting and short game is really important, but I thought, but I think everything is important, and the mental is most important thing."
Pak smiled, and added: "I hoped to give you better answer, but that's the best that I can do."
The World Golf Hall of Famer said the most important advice she could impart to Ryu about Blackwolf Run was to lower expectations, and to relax.
"This is so difficult," Pak said of the course. "This is really hard. All I said is to her, this is so hard, difficult, hard. Actually, I trying to help her as much as I could, but all I can say, just because I remember when, back in 1998, this is how I remember that, so I'm trying to get her to make sure you take bogeys, good, just take a bogey, not more than bogeys, you know. That's as best I can give the advice."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.