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Published: Sunday, 8/1/2004

Pak leads cheers as Farr hits 20 years

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

She wasn't even 20 years old the first time she played in the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.

Now, as the Farr Classic celebrates its 20th birthday, she is the biggest part of its history.

Se Ri Pak won her fourth Farr championship in six years last summer at Highland Meadows Golf Club. She has written and re-written course, tournament, and LPGA records and sparked a streak that has seen a foreign-born golfer win for six straight years.

Pak is one of three golfers to own multiple Farr titles. The others, Penny Hammel and Kelly Robbins, each won the event twice.

They are among seven former champions expected to compete in the 2004 edition of the Farr this week at the Meadows.

Most eyes, as usual, will be on Pak, who all but owns the place and is one of just eight players in LPGA Tour history to have won the same tournament four or more times.

Starting with her first win in 1998, Pak has played 24 competitive rounds at Highland Meadows in a combined 77-under par. Her Farr earnings during that time span total $646,808.

"Whenever people see me, they say, 'Hi, Se Ri, you've got to do it one more time and win.'‚óŹ" Pak said during a June visit to Highland Meadows for the Farr's annual media day. "It's almost like they're looking for me to guarantee it. You can never guarantee a win, but I think my chances here are a lot better than at most courses. I'm always anxious to come back here."

Much has been written and said the past few years concerning the Korean "invasion" of the LPGA Tour.

But that's old news in these parts.

It began here when Pak showed up at what was then called the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic as an unknown sponsor's invitee in 1997.

The young Korean, then more than two months shy of her 20th birthday, missed the cut. It didn't take long, though, for her invasion to produce a conquering heroine.

Any history of the tournament as it reaches a noteworthy anniversary doesn't necessarily begin with Se Ri Pak, but it certainly ends that way.

By Pak's standards, her victory a year ago started with ho-hum rounds of 69 and 67. But when Laura Diaz, the 36-hole leader, faltered during Saturday's third round, it was no surprise to Toledo fans that Pak was there to make a charge.

Her third-round 64 was the best of the week and set up her two-stroke win over countrywoman Hee-Won Han and Marisa Baena of Colombia some 24 hours later.

"I don't know exactly what happens to me when I come here," Pak said on media day. "Part of it is I know this course so well and I have confidence I can play well here all the time.

"I feel like I'm always in contention here, no matter what round it is or what the situation is."

Earlier this year, Pak met the playing criteria for LPGA Hall of Fame induction when her 22nd career victory, coming at the Michelob Ultra Open, gave her enough points to qualify. She won't be inducted until after the 2007 season, however, because she has not fulfilled the 10-year tour membership requirement.

Technicalities aside, Pak is the third Hall-of-Famer to win the Farr, joining Patty Sheehan (1992) and Annika Sorenstam (2000).

Ironically, one of the most famous members of the LPGA's Hall could attain no better than the bridesmaid's role in the Farr Classic. While Pak is a four-time

winner, the legendary Nancy Lopez turned out to be a four-time runner-up.

That takes us back to the beginning, in 1984, when a tournament with a $175,000 purse - this year's winner will take home almost that much - made its debut on the LPGA Tour.

Bubbly Lauri Peterson, a girl-next-door type, was the perfect first champion for the Farr, winning the hearts of local fans with a course-record 65 in the third round at old Glengarry Country Club and then standing up to a bid by Lopez on the final day.

Lopez finished two shots behind Peterson, who later won a U.S. Women's Open under the name of Lauri Merten, and had a four-shot lead with nine holes to play in 1985 before being caught by Hammel, who edged Lopez by a single stroke. Lopez finished second by three shots to Laura Davies in 1988, then second again to Hammel by two strokes in '89. Hollis Stacey and Liselotte Neumann were also a part of that second-place tie.

That 1989 tournament also stood for a couple "firsts" for the Farr Classic. The venue changed to Highland Meadows, and the tournament became a 54-hole event.

It was contested at 54 holes for eight years, during which time the tournament was known for producing well-known (Alice Miller, Patty Sheehan, Kelly Robbins) and unknown (Tina Purtzer, Kathryn Marshall and Joan Pitcock) champions alike.

There certainly were memorable moments - Marshall became the first Scotswoman to win an LPGA event; Pitcock persevered to win in her 225th tour start; Miller's win was her last before retirement - but few if any Farr Classic results were more bizarre than Sheehan's victory in 1992.

She trailed by six shots and teed off for the final round nine groups ahead of leader Deb Richard. Sheehan fired a closing 66 to finish at 4-under 209 and move into a narrow lead that she, as much as anyone, never expected to stand up.

No fewer than six players came to the par-5 18th hole needing either a birdie or, in one case, a par to tie Sheehan. Remarkably, all of them failed to accomplish it and Sheehan scored one of the least likely of her 35 career victories.

The Farr hit the big time in 1997, returning to a 72-hole event won by Robbins and procuring a title sponsor in the Kroger supermarket chain. Within three years, thanks to Kroger's assistance, the Farr moved into the upper tier of LPGA events with a $1 million purse.

That happened just in time, of course, for Se Ri Pak to set up what tournament director Judd Silverman jokingly calls her own little annuity.

Her first return to the Farr was based on gratitude. Silverman and the Farr Classic's board invited Pak when she was a non-LPGA pro dependent on either Monday qualifiers or sponsor's exemptions to compete in tour events.

Later in 1997 she finished in a tie for first at the LPGA Qualifying Tournament and burst onto the scene in '98 by making two majors, the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women's Open, her first two tour wins.

The '98 Open was played the week before the Farr and Pak's win was produced via a stirring 20-hole Monday playoff against amateur sensation Jenny Chuasiriporn.

So it would have been understandable if Pak had opted to take some time off. But she remembered Silverman's kindness a year earlier and reported to Highland Meadows the day after her Open victory. By the end of the week, she had a third pro title in hand.

And Pak did it in record fashion.

She fired the lowest round in LPGA history, a 61, in the second round. Her 72-hole raw score of 261 (23-under par) set another tour record. While it has since been eclipsed overall, it still stands as the low raw score on a par-71 course.

In successfully defending her Farr title a year later, Pak was part of a tour-record, six-golfer playoff. She followed with wins in 2001 and, of course, 2003.

And with the Farr Classic reaching a historic milestone with its 20th edition in 2004, it's hard to imagine Pak not bidding for more history of her own at Highland Meadows.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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