Wednesday 23 August 2017

Why military service could halt new superstar Kim

Si Woo Kim of South Korea celebrates on the 18th green after finishing 10 under to win during the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship at the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Si Woo Kim of South Korea celebrates on the 18th green after finishing 10 under to win during the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship at the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

James Corrigan

As the golf world awoke to the emergence of a new young superstar, the question was "who can stop Kim Si-woo?" Alas, the answer may well prove to be the South Korean military.

It is a shame that the 21-year-old's celebrations in becoming the youngest player ever to win The Players Championship - as he beat Ian Poulter and Louis Oosthuizen by three shots - were interrupted by queries about his impending National Service. In truth, Kim would have been expecting this inquisition.

All able-bodied South Korean men must complete military service for two years at some stage between the ages of 18 and 35 as the country is still technically at war with its neighbour North Korea. Kim's best chance of gaining an exemption is by finishing in the top three at the Olympics in Tokyo in three years' time.

Achieving that honour, as well as winning gold at the Asian Games, is the sportsman's only sure-fire method to persuades the South Korean Government to excuse him from his patriotic duty.

It would be interesting if Kim or any of his compatriots won a Major, but however greatly the PGA Tour believes in the standing of its flagship event, this crystal trophy just does not to cut it in Seoul at the moment.

"I really wish I could have that benefit," Kim said through a translator. "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."

There is no doubting Kim's potential. There has not been ever since he became the youngest player ever to earn his PGA Tour card as a 17-year-old.

On that occasion, red tape curtailed his progress as he was not allowed to play in tournaments until he was 18, meaning he missed almost half a year of the campaign and inevitably lost his card at the first time of asking.

This, issue, however, could represent a far more serious threat to the only player other than Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth to win twice on the US circuit before turning 22.

The very least Kim can hope for is a deferment. This win gives him a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour and his advisors will plead his case for that. However, Kim's countryman Sang Moon Bae is currently halfway through his military service and his case is pertinent. The 30-year-old lost a legal battle in 2015, when he claimed he had residency in the US and was thus exempt.

In response, the PGA Tour created a 'Mandatory Obligation' category that will allow Bae to retain his playing privileges after completing his service. However, there is no provision for him in the world rankings system and having risen as high as 26th, this two-time PGA Tour winner is now 944th, with no chance of this tumble being arrested.

Bae is expected to return for the 2018 season although the fear must be how his game will be affected by two years of competitive inaction.

This issue is not just restricted to golf. Tottenham's Son Heung-min is also likely to have to complete military service unless South Korea wins gold at the 2018 Asian Games, as will Monaco striker Park Chu-young.

Certainly, Kim will soon have a legion of lawyers working at this on his behalf. The Seoul prodigy is now a massive prospect and the dollar signs will be flashing within his team and beyond.

The poise with which he saw off Poulter and Oosthuizen as well as "the strongest field in golf" boasting each member of the top 10 signified that he has the nerve to go with the talent.

Kim hit only eight greens in regulation in his 69 on Sunday but the fact he was only player to go bogey-free in that final round says it all.

While his swing, sculpted by Sean Foley - Justin Rose's coach and once guru to Tiger Woods - is a thing of beauty, it is the short game and nerve which truly mark him apart.

His caddie, Mark Carens, labelled his boss "fearless" and Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion who played with Kim, concurred.

"He played like someone that was doing it for five or six years… like it was just another round of golf," Oosthuizen said. "Never once did he look flustered at all." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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