Nervy Golf Prank Gets Two In and Out of North Korea
I can take a practical joke as well as the next guy, and I know that golf is not a bad place for a good sense of humor. In fact, try playing without one. Most of us, of course, understand, that playing a prank on golf shouldn’t happen in the last round of the Masters. We are pretty well-tuned to when and where the right time is for a good joke. The first thing, of course, is that you have to know your victim. The playing buddy you’ve known for thirty years? Maybe a good choice. But, pranking a generally joyless foreign leader? As Dr. Phil likes to say, “What the hell were you thinking?”
Playing a prank on the government of North Korea falls somewhere in the same category as hand-feeding crocodiles and Russian Roulette. This is the country where a prank can get you shot before sundown, or at least a life sentence of hard labor. If anyone’s going to perpetrate a joke in this county, it had better be its leader, or the effect will almost certainly fall flat. In an almost Twilight Zonish decision, two Australians decided to enter North Korea claiming to be professional golfers. Why not? They were already in Beijing attending a volleyball tournament, just around the corner from festive Pyongyang, the Paris of the Korean peninsula – just kidding.
In a sense, the prank was invited. North Korea holds a golf tournament of sorts every year, and on this occasion, a field of over 80 players was to gather for the big day. Our two Australians, Morgan Ruig and Evan Shay thought it would be a hoot to apply as competitors. Their applications were inexplicably accepted, and the two were correct in remarking in hindsight that “not much due diligence was done” on the North Korean end. You’ve got to think that being Australian helped. It’s one of those countries that is so fun-loving that the first reflex is to trust them. Even if they can’t be trusted, the brain has trouble believing that they really mean much harm.
The intended prank had one major flaw, howeveer. Neither of these gentlemen was any hand with a golf club at all, and yet they went through with it knowing this from years of experience. Further, it wasn’t just a matter of showing up at the golf course, playing ridiculously bad golf, and leaving. Oh no, these gents were taken on a five-day tour of the city, and laid memorial wreaths at shrines devoted to the glory of North Korean leadership. Only then did they go out and finish second and third from last place, which I find impressive if indeed the field was made up of pros.
The only truly authentic response from North Korea to the gentlemens’ hideous display of skill came not from the high halls of Pyonyang, but from the caddy assigned to follow them around the course. He informed the players that by playing so badly, they had brought shame upon themselves and their families. The most unthinkable part of it all, however, was that once the prank was uncovered, the relevant officials…laughed…just like they were supposed to. Not only did Ruig and Shay get into North Korea without a hitch, but they accomplished the much more difficult feat of getting out the same way, after shooting a 120. This, in the country that sentenced South Korean Kenneth Bae to over a decade for “hostile acts” against the country. This, in a country where grandma can be executed for overcooking the rice.
And yet, in the face of this prank, they laughed. So there is some humor in North Korea, but brains in Australian practical jokers? That might be another story.