Only the Games would free Si Woo Kim from the South Korean military

His victories on the PGA, his latest on the American Express last week, do not exempt him from mandatory military service. A medal in Tokyo would.


The shadow of an armed confrontation always hangs over the two halves of Korea, the south and the north. Not surprisingly, the war that faced both between 1950 and 1953 has not formally ended, since no peace treaty was signed. An armistice was simply agreed that is in force to this day.

That tension with the communist neighbor is the main reason why the South Korean government still maintains a compulsory military service, something rare today. All males between the ages of 18 and 28 have to spend two years in the military, including professional athletes, who are only exempt with an Olympic medal or a gold in the Asian Games.

This is a problem, since the period of time available to fulfill the call up coincides with what is supposed to be the years of maximum splendor of an athlete. In the past there have already been cases like those of the Tottenham footballer Heung Min Son and now the ghost is knocking on the door of the golfer Si Woo Kim.

That Kim is one of the best Asian players on the PGA Tour isn't reason enough for the South Korean Military Manpower Association to just license him. In fact, there is precedent with the case of Sanmoon Bae, who won a President's Cup and two tournaments on the North American circuit. He was never the same again after military service. Kim, for his part, already has three, including last week's American Express and 2017's The Players, a major piece that doesn't count either.

Thus, the only lifeline for the Korean is the Tokyo Olympics, in the air due to the pandemic. With first place in his country secured by Sungjae Im, Kim will have to fight for the chance to be there and win a medal. If there is no luck, he has already assumed what will happen to him: "I have decided that I will go. I do not know when. But I am prepared"

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