South Korean golfer Bae Sang-moon on Wednesday apologized to his fans for a recent conscription row, saying he will take proper steps to complete his mandatory military service after playing at the upcoming Presidents Cup on home soil.
Bae arrived home early Wednesday to prepare for the biennial team competition, where he will be part of the International Team taking on the United States. Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in Incheon, west of Seoul, will be Asia's first host of the Presidents Cup from Oct. 8 to 11.
It will be Bae's last event before his military service. In July, Bae lost a legal battle against the local military manpower agency to extend his overseas travel permit.
Speaking to reporters at Incheon International Airport, Bae said he owes his fans a great performance at the Presidents Cup.
"I'd like to apologize from the bottom of my heart for causing controversy," he said. "I am glad to be back home. I will try to do the best I can before joining the military."
Bae, a two-time PGA Tour winner, wasn't among the 10 automatic qualifiers for the International Team; the top-10 non-European and non-American players on the world rankings made the list. Captain Nick Price made Bae one of his two extra picks, though the South Korean finished 19th on the International Team standings. Price said he wanted a player that South Korean fans could root for, and said he also liked Bae's track record at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea. Bae won two Korean tour events, one in 2013 and another in 2014, on the same course.
It wasn't immediately clear if Bae will actually be able to compete at the Presidents Cup. At the time of his selection earlier this month, Price said he didn't foresee any problem with Bae's availability, and that he did have a contingency plan in case Bae couldn't play.
Bae, 29, said he will have to meet with the authorities in the coming days, but he himself wasn't entirely sure what lay ahead.
"I will go through appropriate steps before joining the military, and I will make sure everything goes smoothly," he added.
"But I don't know what my precise schedule will be like ahead of the Presidents Cup, and so I can't really tell you at this point what will happen. It's not as though I can just pick a date I want and enter the armed forces."
Bae won the first event of the 2014-2015 PGA Tour season, the Frys.com Open last October, but things unraveled afterward under the cloud of the conscription controversy.
Under the conscription laws, men between 25 and 35 who have not yet completed their compulsory service require a special permit to stay overseas. Bae, who made his PGA Tour debut in 2012, earned his permanent U.S. residency in January 2013. Though the golfer argued that his green card should be enough to allow him to stay overseas, the local military manpower agency countered that Bae had spent too much time in South Korea in recent months to be considered a foreign resident.
His overseas permit expired at the end of last year, and he was ordered to return home within 30 days. He was allowed to stay overseas while his lawsuit was under way, but after he lost the court battle, Bae was charged with violating the conscription law.
Bae said it had been a whirlwind of a season, marred by stretches where he couldn't concentrate on golf.
"There were times when I was suffering so much and couldn't stay focused," said Bae, currently the 85th-ranked golfer in the world who had five top-10s in 30 starts while missing the cut nine times. "Things didn't always go the way I wanted."
Bae said he will now shift his focus to the Presidents Cup. He had a brief meeting with Price last week during the Tour Championship, the last event of the 2014-2015 PGA Tour season.
"I thanked him for picking me, and I said I will try not to disappoint him," Bae added. "I told him I'll try to be a big part of the International Team."
Bae is the only South Korean in the field, but there is another golfer who was born in South Korea. Danny Lee, now representing New Zealand, qualified for the team as the 10th-ranked golfer on the Presidents Cup standings. Both will be making their Presidents Cup debuts.
Bae said he's "good friends" with Lee and has played some practice rounds with him but wasn't sure if he and Lee will be paired together in foursomes or four-ball events.
Price's team will need all the help it can get against the United States. The International Team has beaten the Americans just once in 10 Presidents Cups so far, with one draw in 2003. (Yonhap)