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Golf legend Pak's complicated relationship with father turns into legal battle

Document forgery, debt sour Pak Se-ri's once-affectionate relationship with father

June 19, 2024 - 14:22 By Yoon Min-sik
Pak Se-ri wipes tears away while speaking at a press conference in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

World Golf Hall of Famer Pak Se-ri's father is known for having played a significant role in the golfer's career, but recent revelations involving alleged illegal activities on his part have illuminated a more complicated relationship.

Pak addressed the public in Tuesday’s press conference matters related to the Seri Pak Hope Foundation filing a complaint against her father, Pak Joon-chul, who was recently accused of forging a stamp bearing the foundation's name in order to submit an application to establish a golf school.

She revealed that she had long been paying back the senior Pak's debt, but vowed to stop covering for him.

"(The situation) has surpassed the level that I can bear. I've repeatedly covered my father's debt because we are family. But more debt kept on appearing, as if it had been waiting in line," she said in a press conference held at Coex in Seoul. "I came up here to tell you all that I will no longer be held responsible (for my father's) debt."

Pak said she does not know why her father wanted to start a golf school business, or if there are any other legal issues involved, saying she has not spoken with her father since the document forgery incident,

Pak is widely considered one of the best female golfers in the country's history, with 25 LPGA titles, including five wins at major tournaments. She became the first South Korean to win a major LPGA tournament in 1998 when she took the McDonald’s LPGA Championship title, now known as the Women's PGA Championship.

Throughout her Hall of Fame career, Pak had maintained a special bond with her father. He supported his daughter from her teenage prodigy days in the KLPGA, and it was he who Pak embraced during a tearful retirement ceremony in 2016.

The elder Pak is portrayed as a tough guy who put his daughter through rigorous training that many think bordered on child abuse. He was reported to have forced Pak to watch dog-fighting matches and practice her swing in graveyards at night, although the golfer stressed that the latter is a rumor.

In a 1998 interview with local daily JoongAng Ilbo, he did not deny the graveyard training incident and admitted to having been a gangster, saying he had even been stabbed in a dispute with a rival gang.

Despite rumors, the golfer stood by her father, describing him as a "good person" in interviews including a 2016 interview shortly after her retirement from the sport.

Pak Se-ri speaks at a press conference in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

But reports have hinted at the elder Pak's darker side even then. In June 2016, he was reported to have been accused of assaulting a man while illegally gambling in Gongju, South Chungcheong Province.

He claimed that his presence at the gambling site had been a pure accident, saying he did not gamble or assault anyone. He was cleared of charges amid accusations of favorable treatment.

It was also found recently that the Pak home in Daejeon, for which both father and daughter shared ownership, had been foreclosed upon and put up for auction in 2016, due to unpaid debt related to the father. Pak Se-ri explained in Tuesday's press conference that she settled the debt herself as well as bought out her father's share of the home.

The controversy surrounding Pak the elder has drawn comparisons to another sports legend, Son Heung-min's father, who went on record saying that his son was "not a world-class athlete," even after Son became an elite player in the English Premiere League. In an April interview, he said that he does not get any money from his son, adding, "A child is not my belonging. I gave birth but I do not own him."

It is unclear exactly how much of her father’s debt Pak Se-ri has shouldered, as she declined to elaborate on the amount. The retired golfer said she is unsure whether she will be able to reconcile with her father in the future, but pledged to keep her professional and private life separate from now on.

"This foundation is entrusted with identifying and helping young talent, and I do not want to waste my time with such personal issues…. I thought protecting my family was the most important thing, but I'm afraid I was mistaken. Such a mistake led to this incident, and I now have learned the most important lesson of my life," she said.