Trailblazer Pak Se Ri gets an emotional send-off

South Korean golf legend Pak Se Ri waving to the crowd at the 18th hole of the Sky72 Golf Club in Incheon. Her first round at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship marked the last of her career.
South Korean golf legend Pak Se Ri waving to the crowd at the 18th hole of the Sky72 Golf Club in Incheon. Her first round at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship marked the last of her career.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

INCHEON (South Korea) • American Alison Lee topped the leaderboard after the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in Incheon yesterday, but the day really belonged to South Korean legend Pak Se Ri as she bade an emotional farewell to golf.

Seemingly fully recovered from a niggling injury that has shadowed her play this year, Lee hit a seven-under 65 to lead the field by three strokes.

A whopping 15 strokes further back was the 39-year-old Pak, the five-time Majors winner playing in her last tournament and in front of her home crowd.

It was a celebratory 18 holes for Pak, who withdrew from the event at the end of the day, after a tearful retirement ceremony in front of a large crowd of adoring fans.

"I am really grateful that I can retire amid the blessing of such fans," said the Hall of Famer. "I'll do my best to help young players to move forward. Please continue loving golf. I love you all."

Her victory in the 1998 US Open - when she was just a 20-year-old rookie - is still seen as a watershed moment in the women's game.

She was not only the first Korean, but also the first Asian, to win the oldest women's Major and became the poster girl for a South Korean golfing boom that has since gone from strength to strength.

Behind Lee with rounds of 68 were Sweden's Anna Nordqvist, France's Karine Icher, Lizette Salas of the United States and South Korea's Cho Jeong Min and Kim In Kyung.

"I gave myself a lot of chances at birdie. Putting was definitely one of my strengths today," Lee said. "I think I missed only one or two putts inside 15 feet."

It has been a difficult season for Lee, trying to balance a full LPGA Tour schedule with her pursuit of a communications degree at UCLA.

She also had to undergo physical therapy to cope with an injured shoulder that resulted in five consecutive missed cuts between April and May.

Defending champion Lexi Thompson posted an opening round 70, while world No. 1 Lydia Ko struggled, carding a 75 to match her highest round of the season.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LPGA KEB HANA BANK CHAMPIONSHIP

Day 2, Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, 11am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2016, with the headline 'Trailblazer Pak Se Ri gets an emotional send-off'. Print Edition | Subscribe