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Se Ri Pak changed the world of women's golf in 1998. Tiger Woods had lifted the profile of golf, particularly in Asia, thanks to his Thai mother. But while Woods, like other sporting greats like the Williams sisters and Andre Agassi, had domineering and demanding fathers, they were nothing to Pak's father. A former gangster, he toughened his daughter up by making her spend the night in the cemetery. She went on to win 5 majors.
That was just the start of Korean women dominating LPGA circuit. A number of favourable cultural characteristics: the value put on meditation and inner calm and resilience. The constant pressure of the Korean school system and the rising status of golf as an alternative ladder to success in a male-dominated society.
Golf requires calm and mental strength balanced with a willingness to take risks.
Different family relationship to Western. Parents devote themselves to building an emotional and financial base from which their children can build their careers. In return parents get utmost respect and obedience.
Ko family originally planned to emigrate to Canada, but excessive red tape so went to NZ in 2003. They landed in an existing culture - 40,000 earlier emigres who were affluent, skilled, well-connected and often devoted to golf.
Advantage of schooling in NZ: whereas Korean school system forces kids to spend 12 hours or more a day studying and cramming for exams, the NZ system gave her plenty of time to practice. But one valuable habit from Korea, where parents hire tutors to improve kid's learning, was that Lydia's parents took it for granted that she would need a coach right from the start.
So they wound up at Pupuke Golf Course where a 22 yo pro was just starting out. He needed clients, so took on the tiny little 5 yo girl, where most pros would have told her to come back in a few years. And the pro, Guy Wilson, made practice fun, inventing games that would teach her the basics of chipping and putting, rather than regimented practice on a driving range. Wilson became her coach, caddy and mentor for first 10 tears of her golfing life.
Kiwi parents say "wouldn't it be nice if ..." but Korean parents say "you are going to be a golf pro, and you are going to be a great golf pro, and this is how we will do it."
At the age of 7 she played in her first championship, shooting 100 on the difficult Titirangi course. At 10 she finished ninth in the event. She would skip down the fairways picking daisies. At 11, she played a round of golf every day for the first 9 days of 2009, with 9 consecutive rounds of 73, dropping her handicap to scratch.
The NZ Amateur Championship April 2009 featured 2 youngest finalists - Lydia, just turned 12, and Cecilia Cho, aged 14. Cecilia won, but provided Lydia with a constant close goal to measure her progress.
At 14 she won NSW Open, initially reported as being the youngest woman to win a pro golf tournament. But after a bit of digging they realized she was actually the youngest winner, ever, of a pro golf tournament, male or female.
2012, at 15, she won Canadian Open, foregoing a prize of $US300,000. The youngest, by a year, to won an LPGA event. Before the tournament she's been worried about her putting, so her coach told her to go online and find 20 quotes from articles praising her short game.
She earned pocket money from her parents, incentivised. Her mother gave her $10 for every hole under par.
"I can't think about the money - I can only control my score, I can't control my opponents, I play better when I'm smiling and enjoying myself."
The curse of aiming for perfection - some people get so wound up trying to be perfect that they live in constant state of stress, bc no-one can be perfect, especially at golf, so they don't enjoy it. Need to accept that mistakes will happen, and just figure out how to fix them. Lydia has basically trained herself to laugh when she makes a dumb mistake.
Many golfers beat themselves up if make a mistake - you see them angry, abusing themselves, their caddy, or their clubs, instead of getting themselves into right state of mind to produce quality shots. Lydia trained in positioning herself as a neutral observer - learn from the situation but avoid the emotion.
June 2014 won Marathon Classic in Toledo which pushed her winnings past 1 mill - youngest millionaire in LPGA history. At the end of the year she was in a playoff for a $1 million bonus. The 3 women involved had to play the 18th hole 4 times, and each time Lydia played exactly the same shots, hitting ball to same place on the fairway, and landing on the same spot on the green, executing perfectly, as, one by one, her rivals faltered, and collected the perspex box full of cash.
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