Lee Seung-taek, 27, who has played on the Korean Professional Golf Association (KPGA) Korean Tour since 2015, enlisted in the South Korean Army in 2020 and served for 18 months as a rifleman in the Army Infantry Division in Hongcheon, Gangwon Province, before being discharged in June last year.
Lee, who had given up golf during his military service, spent three months training after his discharge, trying to recapture the shots he had forgotten.
Fortunately, he quickly regained his shot and started playing on the Asian Professional Golf Tour in December last year, and returned to the KPGA Korean Tour in April this year.
He had some stellar results in May, including a sixth-place finish at the SK Telecom Open, a runner-up finish at the KB Financial Live Championship, a tie for sixth at the KPGA Championship, and a third-place finish at the Honors K-Solago CC Hanjangsang Invitational.
His military service was barely felt, and in fact, he was praised for playing better than before he enlisted.
Lee Seung-taek carded seven birdies and no bogeys for a 7-under 65 in the first round of the KPGA Korean Tour’s Bizplay-Electronic Newspaper Open ($700 million in prize money) at Cosmos Links (Par 72) in Yeongam-gun, Jeollanam-do on Thursday.
Tied for the lead with Park Eun-shin and American Kyo-po Jung-yoon, Lee set the stage for his first career victory.
The national team member and 2017 Asian Tour Qualifying School graduate has been a force to be reckoned with, shooting a 12-under-par 60 in the final round of the 2017 Tee-Up-Jiswing Mega Open to set a KPGA Korean Tour 18-hole record that has yet to be broken, but he has yet to lift a trophy.
His long drives, which often hit well over 300 yards, gave him more birdies than anyone else, but he also had more bogeys than anyone else.
His large frame, weighing nearly 100 kilograms, and aggressive style of play earned him the nickname “Brown Bear.
“While serving in the military, I realized the importance of golf. Before I joined the army, I felt a little bored because I played golf every day, but now I am grateful for every shot,” Lee said.
Once he realized the value of the game, Lee’s rough playing style naturally disappeared.
“I really wanted to win a championship, and I had many chances to win before I joined the army, but my greed got the better of me,” he said. “Now, I don’t just hit the ball forward, I visualize the green in my head where I’m going to attack first, and then I hit the ball there. Even if there’s a little bit of distance left, I send the ball to a good place for the next shot,” he explained.
On the 18th hole (par-5), Lee hit his tee shot into the fairway of the adjacent 10th hole.
“If I tee off on the 18th fairway, I might end up in a bunker considering my distance, so I aimed for the 10th fairway,” said Lee, who traveled 311 yards.
“I saw a lot of guys hitting it like that during the Asian Tour International Series at the Links Course in England,” chuckled Lee, who finished the first half of the season and played on the Asian Professional Golf Tour for the month of August.
“There are still three days to go, but if I play like I did today, I’ll have a chance (to win),” he said, adding, “In the past, when I shot a good score like this, I would just go for it the next day, but I won’t do that this time.”
Park, who won her first title at the Descente Korea Munsingware Match Play last year after completing her military service as a tank pilot and went 2-for-2 at the Golf Zone-Doray Open, carded an eagle and five birdies to get her first win of the season.
Chung joined her with an eagle and five birdies.
Seo, who has been struggling off the tee, had seven birdies and a bogey to finish one shot back in fourth place.
Defending champion Choi Jin-ho fired a 4-under 68 to snap a two-game losing streak.
Go Gun-taek, who is trying to become the first player to win four titles in a season since Choi in 1992, traded four birdies for four bogeys and slipped to a tie for 81st with an even-par 72. 파워볼게임