WILMINGTON, Del. -- Going into the final round of the LPGA Championship, there was a question of whether co-leader Se Ri Pak, a 20-year-old rookie from South Korea, could stand up to the pressure.
Some three hours later, after a succession of pars, she knocked in successive birdie putts at the 15th and 16th holes to put an exclamation point on her first tour victory.
She closed with a 68 for a total of 273, 11-under-par for four rounds over the 6,386-yard DuPont Country Club course.
That was good for a three-stroke margin on playing partner Lisa Hackney (71), co-leader when the day began, and Donna Andrews (69) at 276. A notch back at 277 were one-time Bowie resident Wendy Ward (70), and Karrie Webb, who shot 67-66 on the weekend.
Pak becomes the first LPGA rookie to win a major championship since Liselotte Neumann took the Women's Open in 1988 at Baltimore Country Club and the first wire-to-wire winner of the event since Betsy King in 1992 at Bethesda Country Club.
The victory was worth $195,000 from the $1.3 million purse.
Asked if she had been nervous, she said: "I didn't think about if I would win. I just played my game."
And when Hackney birdied the 11th hole to draw even at 9-under, Pak had "no feeling," she said. "There were many holes left. I didn't think about her score."
Through this year, her caddie has been Jeff Cable, who carried for Tina Barrett and Val Skinner in the past.
"She has a super work ethic," Cable said. "It's the hardest I've worked, and the most rewarding experience."
Webb, who has played against Pak for almost six years, said: "She's always been a solid player. The surprise is she hasn't won before."
Pak is a star at home, based on a meteoric career as an amateur before turning pro two years ago.
News of this tournament has been on the front pages of Korean newspapers, and Korean media showed up on the weekend. Past South Korean President Doo Hwan Chun -- a one-time golf partner -- called yesterday morning to encourage her, but they missed connections.
Hackney, who birdied the 10th (18 feet) and 11th (nearly holed a sand wedge shot) to tie for the lead, fell back at the par-3 13th, where she missed the green and failed to get up and down.
Andrews played the front nine 1-under despite a double-bogey, and eventually got to 8-under with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes.
"It took a mistake to get me motivated," Andrews said, "and with those shots at 16-17, I gave myself a chance."
Of watching Pak make par after par, Andrews said: "When a player gets in a groove, you can't expect them to make mistakes."
Hackney said of her head-to-head pairing: "The battle was exciting. Actually, fun but in a perverse sort of way."
Of the challengers, only Hackney and Andrews reached 8-under. For the others, it was fire and fall back.
It remained for Hackney's fiance, golf teacher Martin Hall, to put Pak in perspective:
"She's like Michael Jordan. You can't teach great athletes. You can't teach the things she has."
Pub Date: 5/18/98