It’s incomprehensible for those of us who live in a country without mandatory military service. Players Championship winner, Si Woo Kim, will have to return to his native South Korea to enlist at some time in the near future.
Imagine James Harden having to step away from the Rockets in the prime of his career to do a two-year term in the army. Think of Bryce Harper leaving the Nationals for 21 months to serve in the Navy.
21-year-old Si Woo Kim, a rising star on the PGA Tour, however, finds himself in that very position. The youngest Players champion in history, Kim is facing the mandatory military service every able-bodied male (between 18 and 35) must complete in South Korea.
And based on the unfortunate precedent set by Sang-moon Bae, Kim’s PGA Tour compatriot, who lost a legal battle to defer military service in 2015, Kim looks he’ll have no choice but to enlist.
Unless, interestingly, he wins an Olympic gold medal, or any medal at the Asian Games, in which case he’d be granted an exemption.
“I really wish I could have that benefit,” Kim told reporters through a translator Sunday. “However, regardless of me winning this tournament I really have to go to the military service and I’ve already decided I’m going to go so I’m ready for that.”
Kim is not alone in his predicament. The aforementioned Sang-Moon Bae is presently serving in the South Korean military and is slated to return to TOUR next year. Texas Rangers outfielder Choo Shin-soo and former AS Monaco striker Park Chu-young, as well as Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Son Heung-min are staring the same reality in the face.
The compulsory military service ranges from 21 months, in the Army or Marines, to 24 months (Air Force). While Kim has indicated he intends to serve, he told reporters Sunday he wasn’t sure when he’d fulfill his duties.
South Korea is technically at war with neighbor North Korea, and this fact alone dictates their conscription policy. However, it would seem an injection of common sense is necessary in the case of Si Woo Kim. It would be one thing if the country granted no exemptions for athletic achievement whatsoever. If it was, “all men must serve, if physically able,” that’d be one thing.
But considering athletes are given a pass for medaling at the Olympics or Asian Games, it would seem sensible to extend that exemption to those representing the country at an elite level in the sporting world abroad. The outcome would be better for the players in question, and better for the country.
And imagine if Mr. Kim renounced his citizenship to continue competing on the PGA Tour? Outside of the blowback for the golfer, South Korea would lose its best golfer. Not an outcome worth risking so a 21-year-old golfer can push papers around at a military base for a couple of years.