(ATTN: ADDS S. Korea's recent performances in last 3 paras)
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Feb. 24 (Yonhap) -- With professionals allowed in the Asian Games golf tournament for the first time this year, South Korea will use world ranking positions to pick its pros for the competition.
The Korea Golf Association (KGA) said Thursday that amateur spots will be filled through trials scheduled for next month.
At the Sept. 10-25 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, the men's golf tournament will feature four players per team for men and three players per side for women. The KGA had announced in January that the men's national team will have two pros and two amateurs, while the women's team will be made up of one pro and two amateurs.
Golf made its Asian Games debut in 1982 and had been only open to amateurs until this year.
The new opportunity for professionals at the regional competition has major implications for South Korean male players, since winning a gold medal at the Asian Games will grant them an exemption from the mandatory military service if they haven't already completed it.
As of this week, the top two South Korean players in the world rankings are Im Sung-jae (No. 24) and Kim Si-woo (No. 54), neither of whom has completed the military duty.
Im, 23, is a former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year with two career victories. Kim has three PGA Tour titles at age 26. For both players, exemptions from the military service will mean uninterrupted and likely lucrative U.S. tour careers for the foreseeable future.
Im and Kim both played at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, when a medal of any color would have given them a military service exemption. Im tied for 22nd, and Kim tied for 32nd.
The deadline to finalize Asian Games golf entries is the end of April, and the KGA said it will use the rankings as of April 25 to set the national teams. If an eligible pro decides not to compete in Hangzhou, then the next-highest player will take that spot.
There is no shortage of talent on the women's side for South Korea. Ko Jin-young, a two-time LPGA Player of the Year, is the current world No. 1, followed by LPGA Hall of Famer Park In-bee at No. 4 and a 12-time winner Kim Sei-young at No. 6.
As for the two remaining amateur places on both the men's and women's teams, the KGA will fill one spot each with the winners of the inaugural KGA National Amateur Championships this spring: March 28-April 1 for men and April 4-8 for women.
The one final amateur place for the men's and women's teams will be given to the winner of the Olympic trials later in the year.
The Asian Games golf competition will have both individual and team events over four rounds of stroke play.
The individual event follows the typical format of a pro tournament, with the player having the lowest score after 72 holes getting the gold medal.
For the team competition, the three best scores from four male players and the two best scores from three female players in each round are combined to determine the medalists.
South Korea leads all countries with 13 gold, 13 silver and nine bronze medals at Asian Games so far, though other countries have been more successful at recent events.
South Korea did not win a gold medal in 2018 in Jakarta. The Philippines, led by the future U.S. Women's Open champion Yuka Saso, won both the individual and team titles for women. South Korea had produced three straight women's individual champion before Saso ended that streak in Indonesia.
Japan swept the men's gold medals in Jakarta, with Keita Nakajima beating South Korean Oh Seung-taek for the individual title. The last South Korean male individual gold medalist is Kim Meen-whee in Guangzhou, China, in 2010.