CHARLOTTE — A record four South Korean men are taking part in the Presidents Cup this week, where the international team is aiming for its second title in 14 editions (and the first since 1998). It will be a historic week if the brave underdogs can overthrow the Americans, but for half of the South Korean contingent, what happens around this time next year could be even more life changing.
In February, as the international sports world focused on the Beijing Winter Olympics, news circulated that the Asian Games (held during Winter Olympics years) would allow professional golfers for the first time later. in 2022.
The South Korean Golf Federation decided to use two of its four spots on the men’s golf team for professionals – its two highest-ranked men in the Official World Golf Rankings – and the other two for amateurs.
Why it matters: The Asian Games hold extra significance for South Koreans, given that a gold medal at the event can largely exempt them from the national 18-month military service requirement for South Koreans. men. Athletes who win an Asian Games gold medal or an Olympic medal of any color may see their service reduced to a few weeks of basic training.
Prior to the February news, South Korea’s top male professional golfers who had yet to serve needed to win an Olympic medal to be eligible for the exemption: a four-year individual tournament featuring many of the world’s best players. A South Korean has not finished in the top 10 at the last two Olympics, after the sport returned to the program after a 112-year hiatus.
With the February news, these pros are now eligible for the Asian Games – where the field is continental and, perhaps more importantly, there is a second gold medal opportunity: a team event for each gender.
South Korea won the men’s team event at the Asian Games in 2006 and 2010, finished second as hosts in 2002 and 2014, and third in 2018. These are all amateur competitions. With the pros, South Korea could be in a stronger position.
South Korea overtook Japan as the deepest Asian nation in men’s professional golf, as evidenced by the 12-man Presidents Cup squad quartet, all ranked in the top 76 in the world. Japan have one at the Presidents Cup, 2021 Masters champions Hideki Matsuyamahis only man in the world top 79.
MORE: Presidents Cup broadcast schedule on Golf Channel, NBC, Peacock
The South Korean quartet at the Presidents Cup includes KH Lee, who was part of the 2010 Asian Games champion team to earn his military exemption. More Sungjae Im, Tom Kim and If Woo Kimthree PGA Tour winners who have yet to serve.
But no more than two of them can make the Asian Games squad, if the South Korean federation’s selection procedures remain the same.
In April, South Korean media reported that Im and Si Woo Kim had been chosen for the Asian Games team as the highest-ranked men in the country. A few days later, the Asian Games, which were to be held this month in Hangzhou, China, were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. They have been rescheduled for next September and October.
Since then, 20-year-old Tom Kim has become the second-youngest PGA Tour winner since World War II. He overtook Si Woo Kim in the world rankings and is now ranked 22nd, 21 places ahead of Lee and 54 places ahead of Si Woo Kim. I’m #19.
A contact from the South Korean golf federation said in an email on Wednesday that the federation had not decided who would make the team now that the Games have been pushed back a year.
Tom Kim, speaking at the Presidents Cup on Tuesday, said qualifying would be reopened and the two highest-ranked men next spring would be in contention to make the squad.
“It worked pretty well for me, but for some guys it didn’t really work well,” Tom Kim said of the Asian Games postponement. “Whoever plays the best golf ends up on this team. I’m focused on getting my job done this week and keeping my world ranking up there. I’ve never had the opportunity to play for my country So if I could make my Asian Games debut, it would be an honor.
Lee was asked on Wednesday what he thinks about the possibility of playing at other Asian Games. “Because I’ve played before and I’m a pro now, I’m going to stick with the PGA Tour,” he said through an interpreter.
That leaves Im, Tom Kim, and Si Woo Kim barring a breakthrough from anyone currently outside the top 100. South Korean men must enlist before the age of 28. Im, 24, and Tom Kim will still be young enough at the Paris 2024 Games to qualify. for the exemption. Si Woo Kim turns 28 next June, possibly making the Asian Games his last chance.
“We are all very close,” said Tom Kim. “We are good friends and we want the best for each other and we support each other. So we spend a lot of time [together] off the golf course, too. Obviously, there is a good and healthy rivalry. But all we do is just focus on how we can play the best golf and, you know, good golf sort of takes care of everything.
A similarity between the Presidents Cup and the Asian Games, given their rarity in attendance and limited fields, is that a golfer’s first appearance may also be their last.
“So there’s a bit more pressure behind it,” Im said, through an interpreter, of the Presidents Cup before being asked to compare the Asian Games. “There are several reasons why the Asian Games are important for Korean players. But more importantly, as a Korean, winning the gold medal for the country and being one of the best Asian players would be very, very meaningful.
OlympicTalk is enabled Apple News. Promote us!