Five of six 2003 LPGA winners are in the field

Updated: May 8, 2003, 10:56 AM ET

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Five of the six golfers to win on the LPGA Tour this season, including Koreans Se Ri Pak and Grace Park, are in action this week at the Asahi Ryokuken International Championship.

Park's found her happy place
Grace ParkGrace Park can't wait to see Annika Sorenstam take on the guys in the PGA Tour's Colonial.

Would Park like the same chance someday?

''Nooooo,'' the 24-year-old South Korean player said Wednesday, shaking her head. ''I'm perfectly happy where I am.''

Right now, that's a really nice place to be.

Park, set to begin play Thursday in the LPGA Tour's Asahi Ryokuken International Championship, won the Michelob Light Open at Kingsmill last week, her fourth career victory.

She's third on the LPGA money list, trailing leader Sorenstam by less than $150,000. And she's enjoying her first season on the Nike Golf Tour Staff after signing a multiyear endorsement deal -- reported to be $1.8 million for four years -- with the company.

Things have happened very fast in Park's fourth season on tour.

''I'm three years older, three years more mature, three years wiser, and I've played golf three years longer,'' said Park, sporting a black Nike swoosh on a white sleeveless golf top. ''It's just the whole package, I finally feel like I'm a professional in what I do.''

It wasn't always that way for Park. Despite twice being the American Junior Golf Association's Player of the Year and the college player of the year at Arizona State, Park said she was unprepared for turning pro. She won the Kathy Ireland event outside Myrtle Beach in her first full season on tour in 2000 and commented then she was ''the rookie coming up'' and did not ''feel any pressure.''

Looking back now, she says the difficult travel, the demanding practice schedule and competing against the world's top players proved a struggle for someone just out of college.

''I wasn't ready for everything week after week and the travel and living out of suitcase,'' Park said. ''There I was, 20 turning 21 when I joined ... and it's a hard life.''

Gradually, Park relaxed and her game improved. Her scoring average dropped nearly two shots from 2000 to last season and she moved from 19th on the money list in 2001 to sixth a year ago. Park looks like she's ready to make another leap forward this year.

''I'm happy and I'm starting to have a lot more fun playing, practicing, enjoying this life now,'' Park said.

Part of the reason could be her involvement with Nike. She'll consult on clubs and clothes with her head-to-toe agreement. She's proud the company looked to her when it wanted to take it's women's golf line global.

''They haven't given me any pressure and just as if I've been with them for a long time,'' Park said. ''They support me and make me feel like as if I'm home.''
--Associated Press

Pak is the only two-time winner this year, while Park will look to follow up her first win of the season when the tournament gets underway Thursday at Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club.

Sweden's Annika Sorenstam, who is atop the LPGA money list at $554,500, is the only winner not entered this week. Sorenstam will become the first woman to play a PGA Tour event in nearly 60 years when she competes in The Colonial later this month.

"I hope she wins," Park said about Sorenstam. "That would be awesome. I think she'll do fine. She's, you know, regardless of how she does, it's given our tour wonderful exposure and attention and she has done a heck of a job for our tour already."

Pak and Park both can pass Sorenstam on the money list this week.

The 25-year-old Pak finished tied for eighth last week at the Michelob Light Open and is playing here for the first time. Pak, who is one of 14 Koreans entered this week, won her 20th career title two weeks ago, when she parred the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff to defeat Australian Shani Waugh at the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship.

"I had a lot of pressure at first because, well, the first two to three years I didn't think any Korean players (could win) on the LPGA Tour," Pak said. "There were only two players, me and Pearl Sinn? And then afterward I was doing really great and then every player was coming from my country. I was really pressured the first two, three years, but not anymore."

Pak has earned $545,779 this year in seven events, two more than Sorenstam.

The 24-year-old Park overcame a brutal start Sunday as she converted a 20-foot par putt on the final hole to win the Michelob Light Open by one stroke over Cristie Kerr, rookie Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb. Park earned a career-best $240,000 for the win and is just over 136,000 behind Pak for the year.

Although she was born in Seoul, Park grew up in the United States and was a member of Arizona State's team that won the national championship in 1998.

"I can be both. I can be Korean and American," Park said. "If I'm tired of being Korean, I can just flip my switch and be American and vice versa."

Kerr, who had bogeys at the 15th and 16th holes and missed a birdie putt at the 18th that would have put her in a playoff, is sixth on the money list at $255,932. Trying to become the first American to win this year, Kerr also tied for second with Sorenstam and Korean Soo-Yun Kang at the Takefuji Classic three weeks ago.

No American has won since August 18, when Meg Mallon got her 14th career victory at the Canadian Women's Open. Mallon is 17th on the money list this year.

Defending champion Janice Moodie of Scotland also is entered this week. She was 3-over at the Michelob Light Open and finished tied for 31st. Moodie has not finished better than 29th this year.

"I have actually been playing well, but I have not been scoring well," Moodie said. "I think that was the whole thing that happened last year too. I was playing well, but just not scoring well. I keep working on my game, so hopefully I will pull through one of these days."

The par-72 course measures 6,455 yards and first prize is $195,000.