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Rookie Im earns a spot at The Open

Mar 13,2019
[AP/YONHAP]
By finishing tied for third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday, PGA Tour rookie Im Sung-jae earned his spot at The Open.

The top three finishers at the tournament are granted a spot at The Open. Although Im finished tied for third, as the higher-finishing players have already earned their spots, he was granted a berth. Im, Keith Mitchell of the United States and Kang Sung-hoon, who both finished tied for sixth, were the three highest-ranking players without that didn’t already have a ticket to The Open, so all three will now compete at the tournament in July.

“I knew that The Open ticket was up for grabs, but I just tried to focus on my game,” Im said. “I am very satisfied that I had a good result. I experienced two major tournaments last year at the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, but this will be the first time that I compete at The Open. I’ll try my best to see a good result there.”

At the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Golf Course on Sunday, Im shot a four under par in the final round to finish the tournament at nine under par, three shots behind the winner Francesco Molinari of Italy. Im’s final round included six birdies and two bogeys.

Taking home $473,000 in prize money, Im has already made $1,338,333 in prize money from 14 tournaments during this season alone. Im is ranked 71st in the latest world ranking and 26th in the 2019 FedEx Cup ranking.

“I’ve gained confidence that I can win,” Im said. “I had a cold so I wasn’t in the best condition, but I’m satisfied about shooting four under par on the last day. I was able to see a better-than-expected result, especially because I made great par saves.”

Born in 1998 on Jeju Island, Im began playing golf at the age of four. He was only nine years old when, in 2007, he became the youngest golfer in Korea to be recognized by the Korea Golf Association for making a hole-in-one. Continuing his success, Im joined the national team at the age of 12 and turned professional in 2015.

Im was still in high school when he played on both the KPGA and the Japan Golf Tour (JGTO) in 2016, finishing 75th on the KPGA Tour and 59th on the JGTO Tour money lists. Then, during the 2017 season, the 19-year-old made a significant improvement by finishing 12th on the JGTO money list while earning eight top-10 finishes. On the KPGA Tour, he finished 53rd on the money list by playing in only five tournaments.

Rather than playing in the JGTO’s season finale in 2017, Im went to the United States to play in the Web.com Tour qualifying school, where he finished second. Though the 2017 season allowed Im to boost his golfing career, he didn’t have a professional win on his resume yet.

Having started his Web.com Tour without much expectation, Im wasted no time in getting recognition on the Tour with his win in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic in January, the season opener. Im’s victory at the season opener allowed him to become the 16th player to win the event in their first appearance and the seventh Korean-born golfer to do so on the Web.com Tour.

He finished his season strong by winning the season finale, the WinCo Foods Portland Open. Although Im didn’t have a win between the first and last tournament of the season, he has still managed to maintain the top spot in the Web.com Tour money ranking, the only player to do so in the Tour’s history.

Following his successful season on the Web.com Tour, not only did Im earn his PGA Tour status card, he was named the Web.com Tour’s Player of the Year and the Rookie of the Year.

This season, as a rookie on the PGA Tour, Im is continuing to show huge potential. By finishing third last weekend, Im recorded his third top-10 finish of the season and is on the hunt for the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year award.

Looking at the FedEx Cup points among rookies, Cameron Champ is ranked 19th, Adam Long is 21st and Martin Trainer is 53rd, while Im is ranked 26th. Im is the only player, among the four, to have not picked up a win this season, but he has been the most consistent rookie on the PGA Tour.

BY SUNG HO-JUN, KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]


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