Last week, the field of 60 who will compete in the men’s golf competition at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics was announced, and it will be a decorated field with six of the top-10 golfers in the world rankings included.
But while golfers such as Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Bryson DeChambeau will look to add an Olympic medal to the major titles they’ve won, there are two in the field that have more at stake than anybody.
South Korea’s two golfers who qualified, Si Woo Kim and Sungjae Im, could have their long-term futures in golf at stake during the competition.
South Korea’s government mandates that men between the ages of 18 and 28 serve two years in the military.
Kim, 25, and Im, 23, have not fulfilled their military obligation yet because, well, they’ve done just fine as professional golfers so far at a young age.
Im is ranked as the No. 26 golfer in the world and has more than $3 million in career earnings, while Kim is ranked No. 49 and has won over $14 million in his career so far.
But their golf success doesn’t matter to the South Korean government, which still demands their military obligation be fulfilled.
Another prominent South Korean golfer, Sangmoon Bae, had to serve his time in the military from 2015-17, even though he was a member of the 2015 International President’s Cup team.
The layoff has hurt Bae’s career, given he hasn’t finished among the top 200 in the FedEx Cup standings in the past three seasons since his return.
However, the Olympics presents an opportunity for Kim and Im to have a way out of their military duties.
There are two ways the South Korean government will grant a release from the two-year military obligation: One is to earn a gold medal in the Asian Games.
Kim and Im can’t do that, because that event is for amateurs and they’re already professionals.
The other is to earn a medal of any kind at the Olympics.
The urgency probably is greater for Kim, since he will be 28 when the next Olympics roll around in Paris, while Im might still have another chance in 2024 since he will be 26.
Recent U.S. Open champion Rahm joked during an interview at the PGA Championship that he would be willing to take a bribe at the Olympics in order to help out Im (repeat, he was joking).
The format at the Olympics will be the same at any other tournament, where there will be four rounds of stroke play to determine the winner.
While there are a lot of star-studded names in the field that many will watch, there might not be bigger sentimental favorites in the eyes of some than Kim and Im.
And that could be for the entire Olympics, not just golf.