Sungjae Im Profile
|Born||Mar 30, 1998|
|Birthplace||Jeju Island, South Korea|
Sungjae Im has been on a fast track to the upper levels of golf from a young age and he doesn't look ready to stop his rise any time soon.
South Korea's Sungjae Im came to prominence as one of the most promising young golfers on the Web.com Tour and he has continued to break barriers since then.
He was the rookie of the year on the 2018/19 PGA Tour and won his first tournament at that level in the 2020 Honda Classic.
Im grew up on South Korea's Jeju Island, with both of his parents reportedly taking a keen interest in golf. At the age of three, he started playing the game himself, following his mother, Mi Kim, to an indoor practice facility.
Five years later, Im's prodigious ability was clear: it's said he was just eight when he beat his father, Ji Taek, for the first time.
Im grew up playing at The Club at Nine Bridges where he played tournaments with Si-Woo Kim, who is now a fellow PGA Tour winner.
Im turned professional in 2015 and played on the Japan Golf Tour in 2016 and 2017. His best performance was second at the 2017 Mynavi ABC Championship.
Later that year he travelled to the United States to compete in the second stage of the Web.com (later Korn Ferry) Tour Q-School. He completed his goal of qualification for the second tier by finishing second, helped by shooting 60 in the third round.
In 2018, Im was named Web.com Tour Player of the Year after landing three second placed finishes and two wins.
"On behalf of the PGA Tour," said PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, "I would like to congratulate Sungjae Im for his record-breaking rookie season on the Web.com Tour and earning these two awards through a vote of his peers."
"To win in his first-ever Web.com Tour start and go on to lead the money list wire-to-wire is truly remarkable. And we've seen that Sungjae's talent translates to success on the PGA Tour, as he finished just one shot out of a playoff at the season-opening Safeway Open."
Arrival on the PGA Tour
Im's early success at the top level saw him bag the 2018/19 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year award as he threw down the gauntlet to the rest of his generation.
A sign of his consistency and quality was that he became just the 13th PGA Tour rookie to qualify for the Tour Championship in the FedEx Cup era. Ultimately, he finished 19th in the standings.
He had seven top 10 finishes in 2019 and finished T3rd at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He became the second player (after Stewart Cink in 1996/97) to win the Web.com Tour and the PGA Rookie of the Year prizes in back-to-back years.
An impressive third at the Zozo Championship in Japan largely slipped under the radar, as the main focus was Tiger Woods tying the PGA Tour record with his 82nd career victory.
In the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne GC, Im was a member of the International team and went 3-1-1, winning against Gary Woodland in his Sunday singles match. However, the USA ultimately claimed the cup, winning 16-14.
Honda Classic breakthrough
Im's wait for a PGA Tour title came to an end in his 50th start at the 2020 Honda Classic as he beat Mackenzie Hughes and Tommy Fleetwood by one shot.
In tough conditions at PGA National Resort and Spa, Im shot a 6-under-par 274, clinching the title with a 4-under 66. Fleetwood, who was also seeking a first PGA Tour win, had started the day one shot clear, but an inconsistent final round let him down and allowed Im to claim the prize.
"I've been in this spot many times ... I just felt like the experience really helped," Im said through a translator.
Unfortunately for Im, the COVID-19 pandemic put the sporting world on hold soon afterwards and threatened to halt the young South Korean star's momentum.
However, he hung tough, maintained progress, and, in November 2020, finished tied second at the Masters.
Im's caddie and friend Albin Choi also serves as a translator for him.
Choi's own golf career hit a lull and his financial situation grew extremely difficult to bear. He was in dire straits when Im asked him to caddie at the Honda Classic.
"I can't fathom what he has gone through," Im said, as quoted by Golf Channel. "So while I have plenty of desire to win every time I play an event, having Albin by my side definitely took that desire to another level."
Im is viewed as an enigma to many in the world of golf, largely because he is reportedly not proficient in English. This is something which he has credited Choi with helping him to improve.
"You know, coming to America, with little English skills and little knowledge of America in general, and on top of that trying to make a name for myself and succeed, there would be times where I'd feel uncomfortable on and off the golf course.
"But meeting, befriending, and eventually getting to work with Albin, I've found a comfort that's been hard to find. That's why I'm so thankful for him," he said.
Growing up, Im has admitted that he and Si-Woo Kim idolised Tiger Woods. "He was a god to us," he told Golf.com.
It has been widely reported that Im lives out of his suitcase, moving between hotels as he plays golf.
According to Spotrac, Im has earned over $9million from his golf career, including a $750,000 bonus at the 2019/20 Tour Championship.