Korean ‘golf daddies’ aim to help their daughters succeed on LPGA TourKorean female golfers have become a dominant force on the LPGA Tour, and behind their success are their fathers, whose devotion to their daughters is unmatched ― they act as chauffeur, cook, manager and coach.
“I drove more than 80,000 kilometers (50,000 miles) last year. I will continue the life of a vagabond this year too,” said Jang Seok-jung, the father of Jang Jeong, an LPGA Tour player.
“One thousand kilometers is considered a short distance,” said Jeon Hee-jang, 65, the father of another LPGA hopeful, Jeon Seol-an, 25. “Sometimes I need to drive a few thousand kilometers.”
Mr. Jang left for Orlando, Florida last week to assist his daughter in numerous golf championships. He has continued to travel with his daughter since her debut in the LPGA in 2000. After last season, his wife, Lee Gyeong-suk, and daughter traveled to Florida without him after they all spent some time together in Korea.
“As long as my daughter continues to play golf, I can’t take any time off,” Mr. Jang said, noting that he will probably spend his 60th birthday, a landmark age in Korea, in the United States. “I wish there were a sponsor.”
“My role includes being a coach, chauffeur, bodyguard and housekeeper,” said Mr. Jeon, who is perhaps the oldest of the Korean “golf daddies.”
“Every week we move from one place to another for championships, arrange lodging, prepare food and do laundry as well as watch the tournaments. There are many roles we play and they require stamina, and so fathers are more suitable than mothers,” he said.
After Pak Se-ri, 28, won the LPGA U.S. Women’s Open in July 1998, the fathers of Korean female golfers followed their daughters to the United States to support them. Now the number of Korean golf fathers involved in the LPGA Tour is over 10.
Pak Jun-cheol, 53, Pak Se-ri’s father; Kim Jeong-kil, 55, the father of Kim Mi-hyun; Mr. Jeon and Mr. Jang are already veterans. Lee Jung-yeon, 26; Ahn Shi-hyun, 21; Song Aree, 19; Park Hee-jung, 25, and Kim Ju-yeon, 25, are all accompanied by their fathers.
In addition, there are 21-year-old Korean-American golfer Christina Kim and her father Kim Man-gyu, and 15-year-old Michelle Wie and her father B.J. Wie, a professor at the University of Hawaii.
Han Hee-won’s father, Han Young-kwan, has turned the job over to his son-in-law, former baseball player Son Hyuk, 32, who married Han in December 2003.
Most of the fathers drive vans all over the United States following their daughters on tour.
When Kim Mi-hyun debuted in the LPGA Tour in 1999, her father sent her by plane to the tournament site, while he and his wife, Wang Seon-haeng, traveled in a used van. It took more than 20 hours on their first trip to drive from California to Texas.
“A rice cooker and ice chest are necessities as well as rice, kimchi and instant noodles,” Kim Jeong-kil said. “We buy boxes of instant noodles whenever we can.”
Whenever there is a championship, the fathers exchange information on lodging; they are also familiar with Korean restaurants in every corner of the country.
“If there is a Korean restaurant nearby, we are lucky,” Mr. Kim said. “When we first arrived in the United States in 1999, we once drove an hour to have kimchi soup.”
“If there is no Korean restaurant, I cook for myself,” Mr. Jang said. “I cook rice and go grocery shopping. I trim green onions, slice radishes, boil soup and prepare side dishes. I can prepare everything on my daughter’s menu.”
Recalling an incident in a motel in Florida, Mr. Jang said, “A father of a golfer was cooking in a motel room. Suddenly a fire alarm went off and water poured down from the sprinklers and then the firefighters arrived. The father was humiliated and kicked out of the motel.”
The fathers can also get into trouble. In 2003, one of them picked up his daughter’s ball from the rough and threw it on the fairway.
“When my daughter plays well, I am happy and don’t feel any fatigue, but if her score drops, I feel very down,” said a golf father who requested anonymity. “In the past, [the fathers] played cards together or went to casinos in their spare time, but they don’t do that anymore. They are afraid of being gossiped about,” he added.
by Chung Jeh-won