KAWAGOE, Japan — They hold telling themselves the Olympics isn’t any totally different from some other golf event as a result of the rest would solely make it tougher on Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim.
It’s already powerful to disregard the perks of successful a medal.
And if both of the South Koreans discover themselves within the combine Sunday afternoon at Kasumigaseki Nation Membership, will probably be unimaginable to disregard a model of stress that no different participant within the 60-man subject can recognize.
An Olympic medal is their solely ticket out of an 18-month obligatory navy service.
“I do know it’s true that if we earn a medal the Korean authorities will exempt us from serving navy,” Kim mentioned by way of an interpreter. “However I don’t actually focus or take into consideration the service within the navy. My solely objective is to win the championship and get a medal and be honored.”
The Tokyo Olympics may not be their final likelihood.
Each are younger sufficient — Im is 23, Kim is 26 — that they might get one other crack at a medal in Paris three years from now. However that’s assuming they qualify. Kim was in an in depth competitors with Ok.H. Lee for the second Olympic spot that wasn’t determined till the ultimate week.
Each additionally know the impact of strolling away from the sport for as much as two years.
Sangmoon Bae, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, performed within the Presidents Cup in 2015 earlier than a house crowd in South Korea. That was his closing occasion earlier than he needed to enlist. Bae received a Korn Ferry Tour occasion a 12 months after he obtained out to earn again his full card. Since then, he has missed the lower in half of his tournaments and is No. 958 on the earth.
“I’ve form of misplaced my really feel the way to play golf,” Bae mentioned in a 2019 interview. “Not the way to swing — I forgot the way to play golf.”
Seung-yul Noh, one other PGA Tour winner, began his navy stint in 2018. Since his return — six occasions earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic shut down golf for 3 months — he has made it to the weekend 3 times in 14 begins on the tour, with just one end inside the highest 50.
Simply one other event? Im’s and Kim’s actions say in any other case. The Olympics meant sufficient to each that they withdrew from the British Open to arrange for the lads’s golf competitors, which begins Thursday.
Im flew residence to South Korea on July 14 and got here to Tokyo 9 days later. He wished to be adjusted to the time change from the US.
“I solely focus and take into consideration successful the video games, not the navy drawback,” Im mentioned.
For South Korean golfers, the one different exemption is a gold medal within the Asian Video games. However that’s just for amateurs. Whether or not a significant can be sufficient to get out of the navy isn’t identified as a result of it hasn’t occurred. Y.E. Yang had already served earlier than he beat Tiger Woods within the 2009 Championship at Hazeltine.
Im pulled to inside one shot of the lead within the closing spherical of the Masters final November till Dustin Johnson pulled away. Would a inexperienced jacket from Augusta Nationwide have carried the identical weight as an Olympic medal if Im had received?
In accordance with Golf Digest, the South Korean authorities made an exception for the nationwide soccer staff on the World Cup in 2002, hosted by South Korea and Japan. The staff would obtain exemptions by reaching the spherical of 16. South Korea made it to the semifinals.
The nationwide staff on the first World Baseball Traditional in 2006 was provided a navy exemption for reaching the semifinals. South Korea completed third.
Im would have a practical likelihood to complete within the prime three at any event.
After spending two years on the Japan Golf Tour, he made a direct impression with a win and a runner-up end to begin the 12 months on the Korn Ferry Tour. He went 3-1-1 in his Presidents Cup debut in 2019 — taking part in with three companions — and received the Honda Traditional a 12 months later.
“I do have expertise taking part in in Japan for 2 years,” Im mentioned. “And since I’ve the expertise, the situation of the golf green and situation of the inexperienced is so good in Japan, so when I’m making iron pictures that can be no drawback to me and I really feel so comfy.”
In some respects, Kim is lucky to even be in Japan.
He’s finest identified for successful The Gamers Championship in 2017 — one 12 months after the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — at age 21. However he was sliding down the world rating when the pandemic hit and postponed the Tokyo Olympics. That truly helped him.
Kim received The American Specific within the California desert in January to maneuver again into the highest 50 on the earth rating for the primary time since 2018 and that’s the place he has been hovering.
“Due to COVID state of affairs, my rating was a bit of bit down,” Kim mentioned. The target was to work arduous and get again “in order that I may be part of the staff this 12 months in Olympic video games.”