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Se Ri Pak, South Korea’s Tiger Woods, to retire from LPGA

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Se Ri Pak will hang up her competitive spikes at the end of the 2016 LPGA season, but the South Korean and golf icon plans to continue mentoring young golfers in her homeland.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Se Ri Pak, the Tiger Woods of women's golf in South Korea, announced on Thursday that she will retire from competition at the end of the 2016 LPGA season. The five-time major champion will not, however, be stepping away from the game.

Pak was as much an inspiration to Inbee Park (and an even younger generation of Korean golfers who crowd the top of most LPGA leaderboards) as Woods was to Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and today’s PGA Tour stars. The 38-year-old, who has struggled with shoulder injuries that limited her to eight starts in 2015, earned her last of 25 tour wins in 2010 and will play several events in her final campaign.

"Basically, 2016 will be my last full-time season," Pak, who will captain the Korean women’s Olympic golf team, told reporters after carding a 3-under 69 in Thursday’s opening round of the JTBC Founders Cup -- her first start in nine months. "I know I loved playing golf but I know I have another dream."

That dream for the winner of 39 worldwide titles is to take a hands-on approach to helping another era of Korean girls achieve their own aspirations.

"It's pretty hard to make decision to be retiring, but it's a time for me to be," Pak said. "At the same time, I learned a lot and I'm trying to share all my skills and all these dreams. So that's where I plan to be the next step of my life. I just want to make dreams come true."

When Pak captured two majors as a rookie in 1998, she was the only South Korean on the LPGA Tour. The first of those two triumphs ushered in an age of media and fan excitement that can only be compared with the frenzy Woods used to generate on any given hole in any given event.

Now, thanks largely to the iconic status in which she is still held, 33 of Pak’s countrywomen play what is truly a global LPGA Tour -- six of the top 10 and 10 of the top 20 in the world are of Korean descent.

That includes top-ranked Lydia Ko, who moved to New Zealand as a youngster and is one of 12 players with Korean roots to own 19 major trophies. So it was not surprising that Pak made her announcement after Mi Hyang Lee opened her first round at the Founders by firing a 27 on her way to a 10-under 62.

"She's my idol," the 18-hole leader told reporters. "I saw her on TV when I was four years old, and then when I was 15 years old I played with her in Korea when I was amateur ...  I will miss her."

World No. 2 Park was 10 when she watched on television as her idol won the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open, according to Ron Sirak.

"She inspired so many young players who are out here right now," seven-time major champion Park told the AP. "Seeing her play was a thrill for us. It's sad she's leaving, but I'm sure she's ready for her second life. Hopefully, she lives a happy life."

Ko was only one at the time, but Sirak noted that her parents’ ambitions for their daughter grew out of Pak’s dream season.

"She's a legend in Korea. She's a founder in Korea. That's why we're here," 2012 U.S. Women’s Open winner Na Yeon Choi told the AP. "People call us Se Ri's Kids. We grew up looking up to her — she was always on TV — and cheering for her ... All the younger players really respect her. When she talks to us, we are honored."

As to what her legacy will be, Pak -- who became the youngest golfer, at age 30 in 2007, to enter the World Golf Hall of Fame -- sought to be remembered for more than her skills on the course.

"Not only great player," she said, "but hopefully [I’ll be remembered as] a great person."