SEOUL (Reuters) - Bae Sang-moon took his first steps back into civilian life on Wednesday after completing his mandatory stint in the South Korean military and the two-time PGA Tour winner is eager to get his golfing career back on track.
The 31-year-old has spent the last 21 months as a rifleman in the army, honoring the requirement for all able-bodied Korean men between the ages of 18 and 35 to undertake military service as a deterrent to North Korean aggression.
Bae, whose last tournament was the President's Cup on home soil in 2015, had little chance to practice during his stint but said the time away had not dulled his love for the game.
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He plans to make his return to professional golf at next month's $1 million Shinhan Donghae Open, which is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Korean PGA.
"I did a lot of weight lifting and running to improve my conditioning, and I am not concerned about my fitness level at all," he said in an Asian Tour statement.
"Even though I didn't get to play much, I grew to love golf even more.
"I've had such great memories serving in the military and I feel that I've grown a lot stronger."
Bae was granted U.S. residency in 2013 and had initially challenged the Military Manpower Administration's decision to call him up, hoping to delay his conscription in order to continue his lucrative career in the United States.
He was charged with violating South Korea's military service regulations and later lost a legal battle to defer his service.
After so much time away from competitive golf, Bae knows he has to put the hours in on the practice range if he is to be ready in time for his comeback event, which begins on Sept. 14.
"From today and until the start of the tournament, I can't afford to be doing anything else," Yonhap News quoted him as saying.
"I have a lot of work to do," he added. "I've been dying to play golf. I've been dreaming of the moment when I find myself in contention for a title."
(Writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by John O'Brien)