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How big a deal is Olympic golf?

Big enough to make two players withdraw from a major championship to improve their chances of winning gold.

South Korean duo Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim have both pulled out of the latest edition of the world’s oldest major to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics later this month. 

The R&A confirmed the news in a statement issued on Friday evening.

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“Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim of Korea have withdrawn from The 149th Open at Royal St George’s to focus on preparing for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan,” said an R&A spokesperson.

“They will be replaced by Emiliano Grillo of Argentina (OWGR 74) and Keegan Bradley of the United States of America (OWGR 75) who are next on the reserve list.”

At face value, the pair’s decision may seem somewhat odd. However, there could be an exceptionally good reason for it.

National service is still mandatory for all able-bodied South Korean men aged between 18 and 28. The amount of time their service lasts depends on a number of factors, including the branch of the military they serve in, but it is most commonly 18 to 24 months. 

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At 23 and 26 respectively, Kim and Im would – like compatriots Sangmoon Bae and Seung Yul Nog before them – require to put their blossoming golf careers on hold due to conscription requirements… unless they win an Olympic medal. 

Introduced by former president Park Chung-hee in 1973, South Korean nationals who win a medal at either the Olympics or Asian Games are exempt from military service. Instead, they are required to do four weeks of basic military training and engage in ‘sports field’ for 42 months. After that, they are automatically placed on the reserve roster, and are obligated to attend a few days of annual military training for six years.

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Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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