But not anymore. Now, Bae will be doing duty in the South Korean military: He's leaving the PGA Tour for a 2-year hitch in the army.
There are some instances when that service can be delayed or even denied, if a Korean citizen becomes a permanent resident of another country or in a few other circumstances. Bae, 29, had received extensions in the past, allowing him to remain in the U.S. to play golf.
But he missed a deadline to extend his last deferral, at which point Korea's military administration ordered him to report. Bae went to court, seeking to have his deferral reinstated. But a Korean court today ruled against him.
As reported by Reuters, Bae said he would join the army soon. "I completely respect the court's decision, and I humbly accept the judgment by the law," Bae told the Yonhap news agency.
I've seen lots of golf fans on Twitter lamenting this, calling it unfair, unfortunate. For example:
This is nuts. Court rules that Sang Moon Bae has to put clubs away and serve two years in the Korean army. http://t.co/WOa7pw12pU— Stina Sternberg (@StinaSternberg) July 22, 2015
But I have to disagree. Don't get me wrong, I feel for Bae. When you have compulsory military service, there are many, many people in the military who shouldn't be - who just aren't cut out for it, who are overmatched by the circumstance, who could have been doing big things in other fields.
But, as all golfers should know: Rules is rules. Or, to put it another way: Them's the breaks. Being great at golf - being rich, being a celebrity - shouldn't allow you to skate by while Korean butchers, bakers and candlestick makers are all following the law.
Bae just happened to be so good at golf at a young age that he was able to put off military service. And he kept putting it off as his career kept growing. Now he's a PGA Tour winner, but he can't put it off any longer.
It sucks. But it's the law. And better that he serve than yet more examples of rich people buying their way out of military service (a common thread through world history) be written.