News & Opinion

Koreans go cuckoo after Kim’s flippant bird

Bio Kim is hit with 3-year suspension on Korean Tour

When it comes to making a statement, few methods of communication are less interpretive or more succinct than an extension of the middle finger. The gesture is an exceptionally versatile one, used not only to convey anger, disillusionment, defiance or suffering, but to signify the notion that someone is having a really bad day. It can prove quite handy when someone cuts you off on the highway or serve as an inexpensive tension reliever. From an appropriate distance, it can end a conversation without saying another word.

That’s the beauty of the bird. You don’t even have to open your mouth to make your point.

Volvo China Open
The punishment of a 3-year ban for Bio Kim from the Korean Tour doesn’t fit the crime, John Hawkins writes.

As some of us might have recently learned, the digital response popularized so effectively by Western culture has made its way to Asia, or at least, to the Korean Tour, where money leader Bio Kim has been suspended for three years after flipping off a fan last Sunday (“In the news,” Oct. 2). Three years, or roughly 33 months longer than the suspension just issued to Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict after his lengthy history of career-threatening, helmet-to-helmet contact and overall dirty play.

Some of Burfict’s behavior has long been considered health- or even life-threatening. That he was banned for the rest of the NFL season was applauded by just about everybody who doesn’t wear silver and black, although there’s a decent chance the players’ union will succeed in reducing Burfict’s suspension to six or eight games. We’re talking about a man who has been breaking the rules to violent extremes for more than seven years in a league that has been forced to deal with the long-term ramifications of its exceedingly rough competitive nature.

Bio Kim, 29, can’t make a living in his homeland until he’s 32 because he presented a middle finger to someone whose cellphone disrupted his backswing. In terms of the punishment fitting the crime, this is akin to putting a size 54 sports coat on a 7-year-old boy. The usual number of auxiliary factors exist in Kim’s case, perhaps the most notable being that the incident occurred on the 70th hole (16th tee) of a tournament that he would win by one stroke.

So, in the heat of the moment, with victory so close and the pressure so intense, Kim reacted impetuously, even instinctively, after the cellphone-affected swing resulted in a drive of about 100 yards. He immediately turned to the crowd on his right and, without so much as approaching the gallery ropes, lifted his arm. He didn’t single out any particular person with the gesture. He didn’t embarrass anyone. He didn’t get in anyone’s face. He just slammed his driver into the turf before making a very short walk to that very long second shot.

Three years for a five-second hissy fit. No physical contact, no multi-stage tirade, just the Connecticut peace sign and a bunch of cold-hearted neckties at the Korea PGA who decided that someone arrested for shoplifting should be escorted straight to the nearest electric chair.

“[Kim] damaged the integrity of a golfer with etiquette violation and inappropriate behavior,” the tour announced in a statement.

Please, spare me the details regarding the importance of honor and respect in Asian civilization. One of the best players on your circuit acts like a knucklehead, and now you’re going to do everything you can to ruin the prime of his career? You’re going to shoo away a talented countryman in disgrace after he literally got down on his hands and knees and begged for forgiveness?

The statement claims Kim “damaged the integrity of a golfer.” Maybe something got lost in the translation there, but the only damage done here was to the guy’s own image. He responded like a hothead to an unfortunate situation. Kim obviously regrets what he did, which really isn’t relevant when it comes to imposing disciplinary action, but seriously, three years?

How about one week? How about just a smidgeon of common sense?

Sergio Garcia ripped up a golf course at the Saudi International earlier this year and barely received a slap on the wrist from the European Tour. He was disqualified from the tournament, but again, this was an ongoing, repetitive breach of conduct that didn’t result in a post-event penalty of any kind. Garcia, as you’re surely aware, has been mimicking a jackass for two decades now, from hurling a faulty shoe into the gallery at the World Match Play in 1999 to spitting into the hole after missing a putt at Doral in 2007, plus whatever else TV cameras might not have captured.

It’s a game that demands decorum, yes, but pro golf is a highly competitive and inherently emotional endeavor, with very high stakes, and apparently, vastly fluctuating amounts of wiggle room. The suspension dropped on Kim is far more outrageous and incendiary than the action which prompted it. In this case, the punishment is the crime. And unless the Korean Tour has some ultra-powerful players’ union we don’t know about, the man with the middle finger will be left to tread water in the Sea of Injustice all by his lonesome.

That said, Kim can always come back to America and attempt his swim to shore. He made the PGA Tour in 2011 through Qualifying School but failed to keep his card, then made 58 starts (22 cuts made) on the Tour from 2012 to 2018. Perhaps it was here that the young man learned how to flip the bird. In his native land of South Korea, he learned how much those birds can cost.