it was the right play. Who knows? In hindsight you would do
something here or do something there. That’s the way golf is. I
just couldn’t get anything going.”
Thompson countered by hitting driver on every par 4
and 5, as she had done the previous three days. “No need to
lay back where everybody else is,” Benji said. “That’s her
strength.” She declined to back off
even when her lead reached five.
“I play this course very aggressively,”
Thompson said, “and I didn’t want to
change the way I played the last few
days. My driver won’t get me in any trouble on a lot of the holes,
so laying back wouldn’t really make sense.”
A boost in short-game confidence also gave her a green light
to swing away, insurance in the event of a wayward effort.
“I would say it definitely helped,” she said. “I worked really
hard on my short game overall in the offseason, especially my
putting. It helps a lot because you’re not going to have a good
ball-striking day every day. So you have to fall back on your
short game, and I think golf comes down to putting a lot. Just
to know that I can make a putt or get up to it confidently and
just put a good stroke on it is huge, especially in majors.”
She holed a birdie putt at No. 1 and from there “just put
the foot on the gas,” Benji said. She birdied three of the first
five holes and turned the final 13 into a victory lap.
“I played with her Sunday last week [at the Kia Classic], and
you can see there’s a different person hitting those putts,” said
Lewis, who finished third. “The head and
the hands are together. It’s great to see.
She’s so happy right now. She’s playing
like a kid again. She’s enjoying it.”
Playing well has her smiling. So does
Benji. A former Augusta National and
PGA Tour caddie (most recently for
Casey Wittenberg), Benji was hired in
October, and Thompson won her first
tournament with him on the bag, the
Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
“I’m not ever really that serious,”
Benji said. “Even today we were out
there cutting up, talking about music
and telling jokes, trying to keep her
mind off golf. Have your mind on golf
for the 20 seconds you hit the shot, then
hang out and have fun and do it again. I
think that’s helping her. She’s out there
carefree, enjoying the moment and hav-
ing a good time.”
She was more stressed, it seemed,
contemplating the traditional winner’s
plunge into Poppie’s Pond that surrounds
the 18th green. “I guess I should probably
think about this a little bit,” she said to
herself walking to the 18th green. “I just
kind of went for it, made sure I jumped in
far enough into the deep part.
“I’ve always imagined myself winning
this tournament and how I would win it.
It’s a dream come true. This is what I’ve
worked my whole life for.” n
Balance gives Pak a lift
Se Ri Pak represented the old guard, if 36 is considered
old, and in this group it isn’t young. While Michelle Wie,
24, and Lexi Thompson, 19, were headlining play in the
Kraft Nabisco Championship, Pak was delivering a quiet
reminder of just how good her career has been.
Pak launched the women’s golf revolution in South
Korea with her victories in the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and U. S. Women’s Open in 1998, the first two of 25
career victories on the LPGA, including five majors.
The lone void in a Hall-of-Fame résumé is that she has never won the Kraft Nabisco.
She still hasn’t, though she gave a spirited effort last week. She opened with a 67, equaling her best round on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course, entered the final round T- 3
and two off the lead, and finished T- 4.
“The Hall of Fame [was] the biggest goal I had before moving to the U. S.,” she said.
“The second thing is to have the Grand Slam, my own career slam. I was just putting too
much pressure on myself, too much thinking, too hard on myself.”
Pak has not won since 2010, but she is prevailing in finding the balance that largely
was missing from her life in earlier years and at one point had her despising the game
around which she had built her life.
“Everything ... was all about golf. I didn’t have my life,” she said. “I had always put
everything into golf. One moment, all of a sudden, I just hate golf.”
She eventually took inventory of her life, and the verdict it returned was that, “I’m
a lucky person,” she said. “I have such great friends around. My life has been perfect. I
never realized how good.”
Pak said she is focusing more on herself than her game these days, the ultimate goal to
meld them in a perfect balance between the personal and the professional. Toward that end,
she was surrounded by family last week, her mother and father, two sisters and a niece.
“It makes me even more relaxed out there,” she said. “It makes me think not too much
about what I’m really trying to do this week. That helps a lot. The last 17 years I’m waiting
for one major to get my own career grand slam. That’s hard. This probably takes 16 years
of learning, so I’m just about starting.” —J.S.