Before Vijay Singh and Dustin's Bunker, there was Se Ri Pak at Blackwolf Run.
The big Fijian won the last of his three major championships in a playoff at Whistling Straits in the 2004 PGA Championship and Dustin Johnson infamously lost his chance at winning his first in the 2010 PGA, but it was Pak's 1998 victory at the U.S. Women's Open that not only sparked a movement in the women's game, but began Herb Kohler's illustrious partnership with golf's governing bodies.
Blackwolf Run welcomes back the United States Golf Association at the U.S. Women's Open the week of July 5-8 marking the fifth major championship Kohler has helped bring to Wisconsin. Whistling Straits will also be hosting the 2015 PGA Championship and the 2020 Ryder Cup.
"When everyone found out that we were going to come back to Blackwolf Run for the U.S. Open, I think there was a lot of excitement, maybe an opportunity for them to play better this time than the first time," said World Golf Hall of Famer and three-time major winner Nancy Lopez.
"But it's just, I think, too, to Mr. Kohler, the LPGA players really respect him, and to be able to come back here in play this golf course and see his smiling face when they finish on the 18th, and I'm saying that sincerely, they, I think, they look very much forward to being back here for the U.S. Open this year on a great, great golf course."
Lopez and Kohler were at Blackwolf Run last week to promote the championship, and reminisce about the impact that first major had not only in the women's game, but on Kohler and his company.
Pak's playoff victory over Jenny Chuasiriporn sent a shockwave through her native South Korea, sparking a golf boom that has helped create a global game on the LPGA Tour.
"We definitely have a universal tour, and that's how it's changed," Lopez said. "But I think that everything's universal now, and I feel like it's a little bit different. I want them to know all the players, because these players are spectacular. They play the game. I think everybody can relate with their games that come out and watch. But I'm proud of the LPGA Tour. I think with all the players from all over the world, it's a great plus for our tour.
And that same morning of Pak's victory, Kohler opened the Straits course.
Since that time, Kohler has been able to do what many club owners across the country have not – foster a lasting partnership with both the USGA and the PGA. It's one that Kohler fully expects will continue.
"We have a regard for both organizations," he said. "You work with them a little differently. They're not motivated by the same criteria, but we've learned to work with them both. And we have the PGA in '15, and the Ryder Cup in '20. Beyond that, who knows? It could be an Open, but we like, actually, we like the continuity and the tradition, if you will, of the PGA at Straits, and we would expect that to continue every five years or so, which is the short side of their interval. They don't, they will never do it closer than five years. But five years is about right."
This summer the U.S. Open returns where it all began for Kohler and his courses, as well as for Pak and many of the players that will be in the field.
"Well, it was such a dramatic impact, this whole thing, on me, on the company, on our opening at Whistling Straits, and then to have a conclusion like we had with these players, it was a fairytale that you couldn't write, you couldn't make up," Kohler said. "So the impact was ... I hope it doesn't happen again, frankly. This poor old fellow can't stand it."
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.