Two S. Koreans at Masters hoping to minimize mistakes

April 9, 2015
Bae Sang-Moon, of South Korea, hits on the seventh hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Tuesday, April 7, 2015, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Bae Sang-Moon, of South Korea, hits on the seventh hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Tuesday, April 7, 2015, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

AUGUSTA (Yonhap) — On the eve of the Masters, the first major tournament of the men’s golf season, the two South Koreans in the field said Wednesday they’re hoping to minimize mistakes on the treacherous course.

The 79th Masters will get underway at Augusta National Golf Club, with Bae Sang-moon and Noh Seung-yul as the only two South Korans.

The two played the last nine holes of the famed course together in practice Wednesday morning. Bae, a two-time PGA Tour winner who’s playing the Masters for the third time, said he is feeling better with his swing than earlier in the week.

“My mindset is that I will be finished if I ever commit a double bogey,” Bae said, adding that the greens seemed softer than in previous years. “I think we’ll see a lot of birdies this week. You can get by with bogeys but double bogeys will make it tough to contend.”

Since the end of last year, Bae has been battling off-course distractions regarding his mandatory military service in South Korea. In December, Bae was denied a request to extend his travel permit by the military manpower authorities, and Bae filed an administrative suit on Jan. 16 in response. His permit expired on Dec. 31, 2014, and he was asked to return home within 30 days of the expiration. While the law suit is underway, Bae may stay overseas.

On Feb. 2, the regional office of the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) in Daegu, Bae’s hometown, located some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, charged the golfer with violating the national conscription law.

All able-bodied South Korean men between the ages of 18 and 35 must serve in the military for about two years. The country remains technically at war with North Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Bae earned his permanent U.S. residency in January 2013, but the MMA declined to extend Bae’s visa on the grounds that he’d spent too much time in South Korea over the past year to be considered an overseas resident.

Addressing the issue Wednesday, Bae said there was little he could do with the suit having been filed.

“I am going to try to focus on my game as much as I can,” he added.

The golfer is also dealing with some physical pains: He withdrew from last month’s Valero Texas Open with back problems and has also been dealing with a stiff neck.

Later on Wednesday, Bae entered the Par 3 Contest with popular actor Bae Yong-jun as his caddie. The two are unrelated but became quick friends following an introduction by a mutual acquaintance.

Bae Yong-jun was decked out in the signature white overalls for caddies here, along with a green cap and sunglasses. The celebrity is said to be a solid golfer with a single-digit handicap.

The Par 3 Contest began in 1960, but no winner of this event has ever gone on to win the tournament proper.

Noh Seung-yul is playing the Masters for the first time. After practicing with Bae, Noh also joined the veteran for the Par 3 Contest.

Noh’s approach will be similar to Bae’s: keep damage to a minimum.

“The greens aren’t as fast as I’d feared,” said Noh, a former money leader on the Asian Tour. “The key will be to keep my iron shots on the greens and minimize mistakes. The Amen Corner (holes No. 11 to No. 13) was indeed difficult.”

Bae Sang-moon will open his Masters at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, local time, or 11:30 p.m. Thursday in Seoul, with the 2011 champion Charl Schwartzel and Joost Luiten.

Noh will tee off with Sandy Lyle and amateur Bradley Neil at 11:36 a.m. Thursday in Georgia, or 12:36 a.m. Friday in South Korea.