- Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim are focusing on the Olympics and withdrew from The Open.
- If they win a medal in Tokyo, they don’t have to serve in the South Korean military.
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Two of the top-50 golfers in the world have withdrawn from the British Open. Si Woo Kim and Sungjae Im are choosing not to play at Royal St. George’s and focus on the Olympics.
While many of the sports’ top players have declined to skip out on Tokyo, Im and Kim have good reason to put extra emphasis on the Games. Both athletes can avoid military conscription if they can win an Olympic medal.
All able-bodied men in South Korea, Im and Kim’s home country, are required to serve 20 months in the military. Two-time PGA Tour winner Sangmoon Bae served his term from 2015 to 2017, for example.
There are a few exemptions, however.
One exemption in particular is at the root of the British Open withdraw: athletes who medal at the Olympic Games do not have to start or complete their military service. The rule was created in the 1970s when the South Korean government wanted to boost the country’s prestige on the international stage.
The clock ticks.
Also of note, the 20-month term must begin before an able-bodied man’s 28th birthday.
Kim turned 26 years old last week. Tokyo 2020 will be his last opportunity to collect a medal and avoid service. Im, who only turned 23 in March, will have opportunities this summer and in 2024.
With that being said, if there was a year for which a medal was most attainable, the Tokyo Games may be near the top. Many of the world’s top golfers have decided not to compete.
The British Open is scheduled to be played during the week of July 11 to July 18. The golf competition at the Olympics is set to begin on July 29 and end on August 1.
Between the travel, mandatory quarantine period and preparation, Im and Kim decided to focus solely on the Games. Well, that and trying to avoid 20 months in the South Korean military.
Seems like a reasonable trade off.