Despite becoming the youngest Players Championship winner in history and the youngest Asian to achieve two PGA Tour wins, Si Woo Kim is resigned to the fact that he will lose almost two years of his blossoming career.
The 21-year-old, who so impressively kept his cool to triumph at TPC Sawgrass by three strokes from Ian Poulter and Louis Oosthuizen, must complete 21 months of military service as required by the country’s government of all men aged between 18 and 30.
And asked in his post-tournament press conference whether he thought the win in golf’s ‘fifth major’ would give him an exemption of a different kind, he didn’t seem especially hopeful.
“I really wish we could have that benefit,” said Kim, whose only get-out looks to be Olympic success in Tokyo in 2020. “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.
“I haven't decided yet [when it will be], but I have five years of exemption, so we will see.”
Kim isn’t the first Korean golfer to be caught up in this scenario. While 2009 PGA champion Y.E. Yang and eight-time PGA Tour winner K.J. Choi completed their military requirement before turning professional, the career of 30-year-old two-time PGA Tour winner Sang-Moon Bae has been put on hold.
In late 2014, Bae was involved in political controversy after he tried to claim US residency to get out of military service, only for a South Korean court to later rule that he must fulfill his duties.
After playing in the 2015 Presidents Cup, Bae enrolled in November 2015 and, when his 21 months is completed in August, he is expected to return to the PGA Tour after a special ‘Mandatory Obligation’ exemption category was created.
The same situation is affecting Tottenham Hotspur footballer Heung-Min Son, 24, who can become exempt from military service should he help South Korea to win gold at the 2018 Asian Games.
Bae, meanwhile, has been detailing some of his military activities on Instagram and thankfully, he's still been able to pick up his golf clubs every now and then.