Bae opens with 66 as visa issues loom


While many in this week's field at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions are enjoying a relatively carefree week in Hawaii, Sang-Moon Bae has a growing off-course concern - namely, he's not sure when he'll next be able to return to his native South Korea.

His visa issues did not faze him in the opening round, as Bae blitzed the Plantation Course for five straight birdies on the front nine en route to a 7-under 66. He sits alone in second place after one round, a stroke behind leader Russell Henley.

"It was a really, really good rhythm I got," Bae told reporters. "(I was) comfortable and ball-striking was really, really good today."

Bae, 28, has been a permanent resident of the U.S. since 2013, but his visa from South Korea for overseas travel expired at the end of the year, and he was denied an extension by the Military Manpower Association. South Korea technically remains at war with North Korea, and as a result all able-bodied men ages 18-35 face a mandatory, two-year period of service in the military.

Bae is taking legal action to fight the decision, but if he does not return to South Korea by the end of the month he could face criminal charges. He is exempt on the PGA Tour through the 2016-17 season thanks to his win at the Open in October, and while he has announced an intention to remain on Tour this year, Bae admitted that the visa issue has been a distraction.

"A little bit hard to focus on my game, because I got a little trouble," he said. "But I don't want to think about it, the other things on the course."