Sungjae Im, Si Woo Kim win gold at Asian Games, claim military exemptions
While the focus has been on Rome this week, Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim were in Hangzhou, China, playing for a life-changing prize – military exemptions.
2023 marks the first time professionals have been permitted to represent their countries in the Asian Games, a biennial event that has been reserved for amateur golfers until this year.
South Korea chose to use two of its four men’s golf team spots for amateurs, and its other two for Im and Kim, who were the two highest-ranked men in the Official World Golf Ranking at the time the team was selected. They’ve since been passed in the world ranking by 21-year-old Tom Kim.
The selections paid off for country and individuals, as South Korea topped the leaderboard by a resounding 25 shots to capture the gold medal.
The gold can largely exempt them from the nation’s 21-month military service requirement for men. Athletes who win an Asian Games gold medal, or an Olympic medal of any color, can have their service reduced to a few weeks of basic training.
With the event having been postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Im and Kim had plenty of time to think about what it would mean to play their best golf with the pressure of their futures at stake, and they delivered.
Im finished runner-up in the individual portion of the event, a shot back of China’s Taichi Kho, a Notre Dame alum who primarily plays on the Asian Tour.
Kim was three shots behind Im, finishing fourth place, with the two Korean amateurs – Yubin Jang and Wooyoung Cho – right behind him in fifth and T-6, respectively.
The dominant performance from all four players left them 25 shots clear of Thailand in the team competition.
“This has been the longest four days of my career,” Im said. “Every hole felt so important, and I knew every shot counted for our team event. I wanted to fight for every shot and do the best I could until the finish.”
Im went on to talk about how this week will impact his future.
“I think I should be able to stay focused even more on the PGA Tour. I feel like I can have a really long and successful run there. I think this will help me so much mentally.”