How a Masters win could save Sungjae Im's career

Sungjae Im Military Service Masters

Sungjae Im led the Masters after 18 holes, putting himself in pole position to claim his first major.

In doing so, he would win a green jacket and become just the second Korean to win one of golf’s big four events after Y.E. Yang.

But for Im, a win could have greater meaning.

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All South Korean men between the ages of 18 and 35 are required to complete between 18 and 21 months of military service, although it can be delayed in some cases, such as for those who work or study abroad.

However, all are eventually required to put their careers on hold and return to complete their mandatory service – except in special circumstances.

Those winning medals at the Olympics or gold at the Asian Games are not required to go beyond basic training, which lasts just a few weeks, while the South Korean government also has the power to grant exemptions for outstanding achievements.

Although it is not guaranteed that they would do so, even if Im or compatriot Si-Woo Kim do become the first Koreans to win the Masters, it is regarded as likely in their homeland – a move which would no doubt be welcomed by the players.

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Aside from the obvious dangers of active military service in the army of a nation which has technically been at war for 76 years, it can have a huge impact on a sportsman’s career. Sangmoon Bae was 88th in the world before being made to enlist in 2016.

Upon his return to the tour after his two years, he admitted he had forgotten “how to play golf”. He has since dropped out of the top 1,000 in the rankings.

Given Im’s performances to date, it appears just a matter of time before he joins golf’s pantheon of major winners - but if it comes to pass, it would mean much more than jackets or trophies.

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