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.
LPGA KEB HANA BANK CHAMPIONSHIP
Day 2, Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, 11am