Sang-Moon Bae intends to fight. Just not for South Korea. Not yet, at least.
Disappointed and confused, Bae, 28, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, on Wednesday promised to take legal action after the South Korean government refused to extend his visa beyond 2014. Bae was informed last month by South Korea’s Military Manpower Association, without elaboration, that his request was denied and that he would face military conscription. According to South Korea’s Yonhap News Service, he is required by law to return home within 30 days of the expiration.
Because South Korea remains at war with North Korea since the 1953 armistice halted fighting in the Korean War, all physically able 18-35-year-old men are required by law to serve in the military for two years.
“I got the green card (to work in the U.S.)," Bae said at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course, site of this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions. "If I have a green card, I can extend five or six year more. I don’t know why they didn’t approve (an extension)."
Bae thought that once he received a green card in 2013, providing permanent resident status, he would continue to receive exemptions from the MMA because he intended to live and work in the U.S. without seeking citizenship.
Now Bae is uncertain about his long-term future. He wants to play the PGA Tour but also be able to visit his mother and brother in South Korea. He does not intend to return to his homeland until the military-service issue is resolved.
“I not go back. I not go back, definitely,” Bae said. "I will take legal action. I couldn’t understand why they denied it.”
Bae, who is No. 84 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is the highest-ranked Korean and a potentially popular attraction for the International team against the Americans in the Presidents Cup this fall in Incheon, South Korea.
“I have a really big tournament, Presidents Cup in Korea, this year," Bae said, "and my goal is medalist in Olympics next year.”
With his victory in the Frys.com Open in October, Bae is exempt on the PGA Tour through the 2016-17 season.
If Bae were to return to Korea immediately, he would retain status on the PGA Tour two years from now, a Tour spokesman confirmed. But if he wanted to return home after September 2017, based on his current exemptions he would have only past-champion status to receive spots in Tour events.
“So many things in my head," Bae said. “I can’t focus on my game, but I’m a professional and I’m trying to focus my game, and the legal action is up to the lawyers.”