Si Woo Kim still has military service in his future ... unless he earns this one exemption
Sean M. Haffey
Si Woo Kim may not have the ceiling or profile of some his fellow 25-and-under peers on the PGA Tour, but he’s certainly not short on the resume. Kim’s performance at the American Express delivered his third career victory, joining the 2016 Wyndham Championship and 2017 Players Championship on his trophy mantle, and continues a strong bounce-back campaign after a shaky season last year.
Unfortunately for Kim, a life-pausing moment looms in the distance.
Kim hails from South Korea, which requires all males 18-to-28 to complete a two-year military commitment. Following his win on Sunday, Kim was asked about the upcoming service.
“I didn't do the service yet, but I'm planning on it as a Korean, but I don't know when I will go there. So that's my answer,” Kim said.
The country is unwavering on this obligation. In 2015 South Korea's Military Manpower Association rejected a waiver from PGA Tour winner and Presidents Cup member Sangmoon Bae to avoid service. Bae fulfilled his responsibility from 2015 to 2017, but his game hasn’t been the same since he returned, finishing outside the FedEx Cup Top 200 in the last three seasons.
However, there are exceptions. Current conscription regulations stipulate that athletes who win medals in the Olympic Games or gold medals in the Asian Games are granted exemptions from military service, instead asked to do four weeks of basic military and obligated to attend a few days of annual military training for six years. Originally there was hope that Kim’s Players Championship would qualify as an exception, but Kim has already put that notion to rest.
"I really wish we could have that benefit," Kim replied, regarding an out clause from the Players. "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, too, so I'm ready for that."
The Asian Games are for amateurs only. Kim’s hope would be to medal at the 2021 Summer Olympics. Though reports last week said the Tokyo Games would be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Olympic officials insisted the competition remains on. With Sungjae Im having a lock on one of the country’s two slots, Kim will be fighting Ben An and Sung Kang over the next few months for the second invitation.