Ex-Korean tour star eyes top LPGA rookie award

January 24, 2024

One prize that eluded Im Jin-hee while playing professional golf in her native South Korea was the top rookie award, which players can only take one crack at winning in their careers.

As Im prepares to make her LPGA Tour debut this week, the 25-year-old has set her sights on becoming the best first-year player on the world’s top women’s circuit.

“Because I didn’t win the Rookie of the Year in Korea, I want to win it on the LPGA Tour that much more,” Im said in a statement released by her PR agency, Next Creative, on Wednesday. Im, who earned her LPGA card through the qualifying tournament last month, will play her first LPGA tournament at the LPGA Drive On Championship in Bradenton, Florida.

“But in golf, things don’t always go the way you want them to go,” Im added. “So I will try not to get too caught up in my goals. I will just concentrate on playing my game.”

Im had an excellent 2023 season on the Korea LPGA (KLPGA) Tour, leading everyone with four titles while finishing second in both official money and the Player of the Year points race. At the LPGA qualifying event, called the Q-Series, Im was the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 40. She is currently No. 39.

Im has said her ultimate career goal is to reach the top of the world rankings.

“Obviously, becoming the No. 1 player in the world will be difficult to do,” she said. “But I think I can get to that point eventually if I keep putting in my best effort.”

Im was one of the KLPGA’s best ball strikers and putters last year and said she wants to add a little more distance to her drives and minimize mistakes on short putts.

“I put up some good numbers last season, but I didn’t drive the ball as far as I’d expected, and I made some mistakes on putts from short distances,” said Im, who averaged 243.28 yards off the tee to rank 27th in the KLPGA last year. It would have put Im in 155th place on the LPGA in 2023.

“I will need to focus harder to start hitting it longer off the tee and to be sharper with short putts,” Im added.

As for learning English and acclimatizing herself to the new culture, Im said: “It will take a long time. I am not going to rush anything in that regard.”

Im has six career KLPGA wins, all of which came over the past three years. She ranked fifth in the KLPGA Rookie of the Year points in 2018 but was not good enough to retain her membership after finishing outside the top 50 on the money list.

She survived the qualifying tournament that winter to stay on the KLPGA Tour for 2019 but lost her tour card again. Im toiled on the second-tier tour in 2020 before making it back to the KLPGA Tour in 2021 and earning her maiden victory.

Im hasn’t looked back since, and she said she isn’t about to stop.

“I’ve been training really hard because all I ever want to do is play well, and that mindset hasn’t changed,” she said. “I am obviously happy to have made it to the LPGA Tour, but I don’t want to be content with this. No matter how difficult life out here will be, I will never despair.”