After three top 25 finishes in majors, including a T-2 at the 2020 Masters, and two PGA Tour wins, Sungjae Im is fast becoming one of the world’s must-watch golfers.
After turning professional in 2015 at the age of 17, the South Korean headed West, initially to the Web.com Tour Q-School then on to the PGA. There, he would start to show his huge potential. The 2018/19 season saw him take the Rookie Of The Year award, and finish 19th in that season’s FedEx Cup. Progress since has been rapid, as he looks to cement a berth in the world top 20.
But, he tells RSNG.com, his battle is only just starting – and having the confidence to play more bravely is key to his plans for further success.
Sungjae Im Arrives
In the 2020 at Augusta, nobody was close to catching the OWGR number one Dustin Johnson as he won his first Masters and second major tournament overall.
But Sungjae Im almost matched the opening two rounds from the South Carolina player, just a shot behind. While a closing 69 meant he ended his Masters’ debut with a runners-up spot, Im had announced himself.
“I was obviously very happy to have finished so high at my debut major tournament,” Im says. “And to shoot three rounds in the 60s, especially when only Cameron Smith has ever got all four rounds under 70 in history, was a big thing.
“They say there is a moment when every golfer arrives, and that was it for me.”
Fate And Sacrifice
Being such a modest, yet hugely spirited young talent, Im is the type of player who will accept praise, while almost admonishing himself at the same time.
“I have invested a lot of time into my game and made some big sacrifices, but being from South Korea we are always looking at luck and fortune, and are grateful when fate turns our way and shows us a way forward.
“I have no doubt I have tried hard,” he says, “but I also know someone or something is looking out for me and helping me on this road.”
I realized I had to make the leap into being that brave player – when I did I found my game opened up to a whole new method
Smiling Around The Course
The general demeanor of the young Korean is a breath of fresh air. The way he goes about his business on and off course around the media, when attending interviews and press engagements, is great to watch. He is, in many ways, the kid in the sweetshop.
“Sometimes I need to pinch myself to check it is all happening. It is a life that makes me feel very blessed and very grateful.”
Im is rarely without a smile, even if he is being self-critical; and the fact that he answers every question with such honesty and a cognizant attitude makes him one of the best players to interview.
Im says: “I love being a golfer and I love trying to find more ways to evolve, improve my game and compete with the best players in the world. There are so many great competitors in the sport, it’s a privilege that golf is my career.
“I know there are still things that I need to be better at, but I will always work hard to make sure that I do so. I need to, because some of the things these players on Tour do are ridiculous!” he laughs.
“I would like to think I can get to that level and stay there – that is the challenge. I don’t feel I have achieved anything really yet.
“We have a saying in Korea that to prove yourself you must do it for perpetuity, or not at all, and that is how I feel. The battle is only really starting now.”
While Im says he’s trying all the time to develop every part of his game, putting remains the main thing he wants to progress.
“Sometimes, my putting can be good, sometimes it can be streaky,” Im concurs. “When I look at that side of my game, I know that if I can nail it down using the putter, then I will compete in events even more.
“For example, talking about my good debut performance at the Masters in 2020, I remember that I went into that event and my putting wasn’t fantastic, but I did well with the putter that week. That was a huge reason why I was able to finish second in the tournament and it proved to me that if I can be more consistent on the greens, I will win more competitions.”
Im says his reading of greens has improved, and at a time when pin positions are perhaps more challenging than ever. “In my formative days I would aim at the pin and that was enough, but I am building much more intelligence and hazard perception into green shots now.
“As a golfer, you need real confidence in your own game and your own ability to read a green when you don’t aim at a pin, or when you are aiming at a smaller part of the green that may have a high-risk element to it.
“I realized I had to make the leap into being that brave player, and when I did, I found my game opened up to a whole new method.”
For a few years, you are working your way up the world rankings – then something just clicks and the acceleration begins.
But while Im remains quite the self-denigrator, he also knows how far he has come in a short space of time.
“I know I am now aiming at the top end of golf,” he says. “For a few years you are working your way up the world rankings – then something just clicks and the acceleration begins.
“I have tremendous respect for players because it is a hard life and it’s difficult to keep going when perhaps your game isn’t reflecting the effort you put in.
“The media only ever focus on the winners, of course. Although the prize money for finishing a distance down the rankings can make the event worthwhile, it is the feeling of failure and disappointment that you have to really find a way of putting to one side.
“Personally, I am much better at doing that now. I can recover and refocus, and I look forward to what the next year can bring.”
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