DAEGU/SEOUL, Jul. 23 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korean PGA Tour pro Bae Sang-moon, mired in a row over his conscription, said Wednesday he will soon join the armed forces, hours after losing his legal battle against the local military manpower agency.
Earlier in the day, the Daegu District Court ruled that the local branch of the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, took an appropriate course of action when it refused to extend the overseas stay for Bae Sang-moon, a two-time PGA Tour winner who had hoped to delay his military service. His travel permit expired at the end of 2014.
Instead of appealing the ruling, the 28-year-old said he will “humbly accept” the court’s ruling.
“I’d like to apologize to my fans for causing them concerns,” he said from Oakville, Ontario, where he’s preparing to enter the tour’s RBC Canadian Open. “I decided that I can mature further as a golfer by returning home as soon as I can and complete my mandatory military service.”
Bae added that he has yet to decide when he will come back to South Korea.
Bae was charged in February with violating the country’s Military Service Act for his failure to return home after his overseas travel permit ran out. He’d been asked to return to South Korea within 30 days of the expiration date.
Under the act, men between 25 and 35 who have not yet completed their mandatory service require a special permit to stay overseas. All able-bodied South Korean men between the ages of 18 and 35 must serve in the military for about two years. The country remains technically at war with North Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Last December, the MMA refused to grant Bae’s request for an extension, and the golfer, who earned his U.S. residence in 2013, filed an administrative suit on Jan. 16 in response. He’s been allowed to stay overseas while the lawsuit was under way.
The MMA declined to extend Bae’s visa last year because he’d spent too much time in South Korea over the past year to be considered an overseas resident. The MMA claimed Bae spent 133 days — though not consecutively — in South Korea in 2014, while the golfer says he stayed for only about 100 days.
The Daegu court determined on Wednesday that even though Bae had been playing in the States, he didn’t have sufficient grounds for staying outside South Korea any longer. The court also said Bae’s refusal to immediately join the military “runs counter to the principle of fairness” with others in conscription.
Bae had also told the court he’d like an opportunity to compete in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next year, hoping he could win a medal and earn an exemption from conscription.
Yet the court ruled that there was too much uncertainty surrounding Bae’s chances of representing the country, and to grant him a visa extension based on the remote possibility that he could do well at the Olympics “would have given him excessive benefits.”
The court acknowledged that Bae would stand to suffer financial losses by missing multiple PGA Tour seasons, but it wanted to be fair to other men facing the mandatory service.
“For everyone facing conscription, dreams are all precious,” the court said. “If an athlete is allowed to arbitrarily schedule when he’d enter the military because he’d lose more money than others, then it would damage the idea of fairness in conscription and also the morale among the troops.”
Bae reiterated his previous claim that he had never intended to dodge the military service entirely.
“I felt this was a critical time for me as a young athlete to continue to compete on the U.S. golf tour,” he added. “And I’d been doing the best I could to extend my stay, which was the legal and reasonable way. But the court’s ruling today reminded me of the fact I should put my duty as a South Korean citizen ahead of my golfing career.”
Earlier in the day, the Central Administrative Appeals Commission under the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission also ruled that the MMA did the right thing by not granting Bae’s request for a visa extension.
According to the commission, Bae had also split his time playing on the Korean PGA Tour and earned more than 400 million won (US$347,200) while also earning credits at a South Korean graduate school.
Bae captured his second PGA Tour win at the Frys.com Open last October and would have had an exemption to play on the PGA Tour through the 2016-2017 season.
Perhaps distracted by his legal battle, Bae has been sliding down the world rankings, from No. 84 at the end of last year to No. 107 this week. Since his Frys.com Open victory, Bae has posted just two top-10 finishes in 19 starts on the PGA Tour, and missed the cut seven times.
In the Olympic rankings, separate from the world rankings, Bae is currently at 36th. The top 15 as of July 11, 2016, will qualify for the Olympic tournament, with a maximum of four players from any country.
After the top 15, the highest-ranked players will qualify, with a maximum of two golfers from each country until the field of 60 is full.