Then again, can’t they make an exception and grant the kid an exemption from military service? The guy stunned the world and himself, being a 400-1 bet going in, when he became the youngest player EVER to win the Players Championship. Or, listen, if he must serve, make sure he’s not on the front lines, the 160 MILE LONG DMZ, where kooky North Korea and its leader, even kookier Kim Jong-un, might serve up a brand spanking new Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile, or some such thing. Maybe make golfer-Kim a killer-sniper; he can certainly place his shots.
Alas, there’s no way around it: Si Woo has to serve two years in the ROK Armed Forces, assuming he doesn’t renounce his citizenship and dodge the draft. Compatriot Sang-Moon Bae found out, through the court of law, there’s no way to avoid conscription in that country. (If Si Woo, was an Olympic medal winner, or a gold medal winner from the Asian Games, or a geezer older than 35, he’d get a pass – but as a young burgeoning star winner on the PGA, no dice.)
Amazing as his win was, being just 21 years of age, let’s remember that he and other South Korean men, while notable and noteworthy, must take a back seat to the front-driver domination of South Korean women on the LPGA. Recall that Lydia Ko won her first professional golf tournament, the New South Wales Open, at 14.
This is not a misprint. 14. Nor is it an error to point out that the women of South Korean heritage have been at the top of the money list(s) and rankings for years, now. OK, so why do these gals ace the game of golf? And does Si Woo Kim have it in him to improve, and become an elite pro on the PGA to perhaps equal these women in stature back home?
The magic female formula, written by R.G., in the Economist, distills the awesome anomaly of top golfers worldwide being invariably Korean to: heavy parental discipline, dished out especially by the Dad’s; the competitiveness of Korean society as a whole; the prevalence of players’ hitting millions of balls in driving ranges, what with space at a minimum and golf course availability at a premium; repetition as the best means to become the best; and a seemingly inherent gene of Koreans to follow the lead - trends: once Se-Ri Pak led the pack, everybody and their sister picked up a stick. And Ko sticks with her sticks, putting in between 30 to 50 hours per week working on her game.
Back to the boys. Alex Myers of Golf Digest, take a bow. Back in January of 2016 you wrote of the potential of Si Woo. And American academic, and Director of the Asia Institute, Emanuel Pastreich, who specializes on Korean studies, please continue pontificating on why a forced stint in the military, rather than being a drag, is, in fact, a boon. There, as exemplified by the 3rd Engineer Brigade, the moral of the story is: no blame, no complaining, and be of an optimistic attitude. Also, live clean in manners and in habits. Paging John Daly...
Given that Si Woo appears to be in somewhat good health, chances are he’ll be put into Active Duty Service as opposed to Public Service. He’ll face five weeks of basic training, for starters. True, he has had back and wrist problems – at 21, that is SO NOT a good sign, and a physical will reveal the extent of those pains. (He just withdrew from the Byron Nelson on account of his wonky back.) Let’s hope he isn’t subjected to bullying or hazing, not from Byron Nelson fanatical fans, but from fellow soldiers culturally and historically imbued in the two year rite of passage in matters military. The military pay’s not great – it sucks, truly, under $200 USD, monthly – and way under the country’s minimum wage for civilians – you know, the folks not putting their lives in their hands each and every day. He’ll have to get his head shaved. He’d better carefully shuffle and hide his $1,890,000 won at the Players from his army mates in his duffle. Some of his more intimate, personal effects will be put in a box. The parents will get this keepsake in case the worse should occur with death while serving...
One keepsake that puts Kim ahead of the pack is the fact that he earned his PGA Tour Card when he was just 17. One keepsake we, watching highlights of the Players - “the Fifth Major” - was noting how smooth, controlled, and slow his swing was. While a slow swing contravenes the idea that only a fast swing can bring the utmost power to one’s game, his tempo works wonders for him.
But will a two-year hiatus from his profession cause irreparable damage to his game? He’s done himself one huge solid in winning the Players – as he now has a five year exemption on the tour – so that gives him three years to get the kinks out of a rusty golf game once he leaves the military.
Another advantage of military service is that this young fellow’s idle time will not be replete with drugs, thieving, lollygagging, or with other loser-like thuggerish acts. A youngster’s measure of possible success, remember, isn’t simply how he or she performs at work, but is how he or she performs during times of leisure. Si Woo Kim, in his win at TPC Sawgrass, had that look of discipline – and had way more than a veneer of self awareness and wherewithal to beat back, not only faltering veterans on Sunday, but to blow away, by any standard, no pun intended, par-for-the-course acts of self destruction that often arise in the mid twenties, or in the case of J.B. Holmes’s (84) and Kyle Stanley’s (75) in their mid thirties to late twenties.
Mid twenties to be for Si Woo? This kid could be a super shooter forever.