South Korea’s Im Sung-jae has morphed from a prodigious talent into a world-class golfer and two-time PGA Tour winner and will be one of the vital cogs in captain Trevor Immelman’s International Team at the Sept 22-25 Presidents Cup in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Three years ago, Im, 24, was a captain’s pick by Ernie Els. But he played like a seasoned campaigner at Royal Melbourne, cementing his status as a rising star status by delivering an impressive 3.5 points in his team’s narrow 16-14 loss.

This time round, he has earned his place on the team on merit and Immelman, who was one of Els’ assistants, knows exactly the kind of firepower and influence the Korean can deliver at Quail Hollow, where his underdogs will be determined to dethrone a powerful United States team.

More importantly, Im has also proven he can team up with any player, having played with three different partners in the fourball and foursome sessions at Royal Melbourne.

Aside from being well known for his ball-striking prowess – he ranked a career high ninth in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green in the recent season – Im is also a mean birdie machine, an attribute vital in match play. He established a new PGA Tour record in 2021 for most birdies in a season with his haul of 494, breaking a 21-year-old record along the way.

Canada’s Adam Hadwin, who partnered Im to win a fourball match against Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele in Melbourne, said: “Sung-jae is such an unbelievable player… He doesn’t miss too many shots. Sung-jae makes it so easy to play with.”

When the International Team arrived at Royal Melbourne, the majority of players opted to only walk the golf course on the Monday of the week. The winds were swirling but they did not prevail in the same manner for the rest of the week.

Australia’s Adam Scott, who will make his 10th straight appearance in Charlotte, said that “it was so windy that I certainly didn’t even think about touching any of the holes because I didn’t want to destroy my confidence”.

“Sung-jae was the only guy who went out there to play, so we ended up walking out and watching him play a few holes, and even in a 25 mile-an-hour (40kmh) wind, he was just fairway, green, fairway, green, and it was a bit like Iron Byron, like a machine,” added the Australian, in reference to golf legend Byron Nelson, who was famous for his consistent iron play.

Gary Woodland was the rather unfortunate American drawn to face Im at his brilliant best in the singles, and was outclassed 4&3. “It was stressful. I played great and got steamrolled,” said the former US Open champion.

Im grew up playing golf on Jeju island thanks to his parents’ encouragement. After representing the Korean national team, he played on the Korean Tour and Japan Golf Tour during his teens before finding instant success on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2018 where he was named Player and Rookie of the Year, thanks to two victories and multiple top-10 finishes.

His transition onto the elite PGA Tour was as smooth as his full-flowing golf swing as he made it into the top-30 Tour Championship in 2019, earned Rookie of the Year honours and was also a wild card for the Presidents Cup. His first team experience has since stirred the fire in Im’s belly in his attempt to help the Internationals secure what would only be a second win in the series since 1994.

“If we can win the Cup, this will become part of my career,” said Im, who finished tied second in the recent FedExCup final standings – the best showing by an Asian golfer. “There is only one time when the International Team won, so if I could be part of the team when we win the next time, it will mean a lot. I will make sure we try our best.”

Im has no doubt the camaraderie and bond that have been built and strengthened over the last few years will serve the International Team’s quest to finally upstage the Americans well. Their new logo, a shield which sees the various international flags incorporated for each team member, has also been a unifier for a squad which is made up from multiple countries across the globe.

“Everyone cheering as one team is the most special moment for me from 2019,” he said. “It was my first Presidents Cup and it was a pretty impressive week for me and a great experience. I’m looking forward to the next one. Quail Hollow is not easy but our International Team will try their best and I will try my best. We have become much closer and comfortable with each other.” PGA TOUR

The writer is senior director, marketing & communications – APAC for the PGA Tour.

Last modified: September 19, 2022