Inaugural Woori Financial Group Championship to tee off Thursday
The inaugural Woori Financial Group Championship starts Thursday at Ferrum Country Club with PGA golfer Im Sung-jae joining the competitive field.
The total prize money for the Championship is 1.3 billion won ($1.02 million), with the winner taking home 260 million won.
Im spends most of his time as a PGA golfer, ranked world No. 20 and No. 10 in the Fedex rankings. He is the highest-ranked Korean golfer on the PGA Tour, followed by Kim Si-woo and Lee Kyoung-hoon.
Im is the only Korean golfer on the PGA Tour to have a win this 2021-22 season, winning the third event of the season, the Shriners Children's Open at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas on Oct 10.
Im pulled off an incredible nine-under, 62, on the last round of the Shriners Children's Open to clinch a four-shot victory at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas for his career second PGA Tour title.
Im earned his first-ever title aged 23 on the PGA Tour last March at The Honda Classic where he outplayed Mackenzie Hughes of Canada, becoming the second-youngest winner of the tournament after 1996 champion, Tiger Woods, who won at 20 years old, nine months and six days. The Honda Classic was Im’s 50th tournament since he came on the PGA Tour in 2019. This second title came along with his 100th tournament.
Im jetted into Korea to play a KPGA event for the first time in two years and seven months. The last time he competed in a domestic tournament was at the Genesis Championship in October of 2019, where he won the trophy.
He has currently played 16 events this season, has one win, five top 10 finishes and 10 top 25 finishes. He failed to make the cut in just two events.
Im and Kim Si-woo were the two PGA golfers scheduled to represent Korea at the now indefinitely postponed Hangzhou Asian Games.
The Korea Golf Association announced that Im, Kim Si-woo, Jang Yu-bin and Cho Woo-young will represent Korea in the men’s golf events at the Asian Games, while Bang Shin-sil, Kim Min-byeol and Jung Ji-hyun will represent Korea in the women's events.
Im and Kim qualified for the Asian Games based on their world rankings.
The 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games golf tournament was scheduled to be held at the West International Golf Club in Hangzhou, China, for four days from Sept. 15 to 18 but was indefinitely postponed due to Covid-19.
“I don’t know how long the Asian Games will be postponed,” said Im at a pre-tournament interview on Tuesday.
“But there is nothing that I can do to control the situation. I wish the Games are rescheduled in the near future and that I can compete to get good results.”
After competing at the Woori Financial Group Championship, Im will return to the PGA Tour to compete at the PGA major, the PGA Championship starting May 20.
"Going back and forth between Korea and the United States is not an easy schedule but it has been a while since I have played in Korea so I will enjoy it as much as I can and try to keep my form," said Im.
"My aim is to win at least one title every year. I want to compete in the PGA Tour Champions later when I am older. I still have a good 25 years left so I want to win one event every year till then to stack up my wins."
The PGA Tour Champions is a senior branch of the PGA Tour for players over 50. Korean golf legend K.J. Choi currently competes in the PGA Tour Champions.
"Another goal that I have is to play golf for a long time, over 20 years and to make it in the top 125 to keep my tour card," Im added.
Im will be looking to win his first KPGA title of the season in front of fans at home at Ferrum Country Club.
"I get up early in the morning because of jet lag," said Im.
"But lots of people gathered to watch my practice round today and there were a lot of cameras too. I've never been in this situation and I worry that it might have disturbed other players.
"I think second shots will be crucial because the greens are difficult here. The par-4s are not long so if I can make good shots with my short iron than I think I will be able to birdie those holes."
Alongside Im, Korean baseball legend Park Chan-ho will this week try his hand at a very different ball game, as Park Chan-ho enters the KPGA Tour's Woori Financial Group Championship.
To be invited to the KPGA, players must either have experience as a standby member on a national team, have finished higher than fifth at a KPGA event, or have an official handicap under three. Park Chan-ho’s official handicap is under three.
Park Chan-ho has some experience in golf tournaments, having won the Huons Elravie Celebrity Pro-Am with professional golfer Kim Young-woong and ranking first in the long drive event, hitting 331 yards, in 2018. This is his fifth time competing at a KPGA event.
Park Chan-ho competed in the preliminary rounds of three Srixon Tour — the lower-tier tour underneath the KPGA — events last March and April, tying for 121st in the first event, tying for 84th in the second and tying for 58th in the third. Last April at the KPGA Gunsan Open, Park Chan-ho failed to make the cut.
All eyes are on the baseball legend, looking to see if he can make the cut this time.
Two of this season's KPGA champions, Kim Bio and Park Sang-hyun will be looking for their second wins. The 2022 KPGA Tour started with the 17th DB Insurance Promy Open on April 14 which Park Sang-hyun won. On May 5, at the 41th GS Caltex Maekyung Open, it was Kim Bio who took home some silverware.
Alongside 138 other golfers, Im will be teeing off alongside Kim Bio and Park Sang-hyun at 11:30 a.m. Park Chan-ho will be teeing off alongside Park Jun-hong and Chun Jae-han at 12:50 p.m on Thursday.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]