S. Korean rookie enjoying home cooking ahead of PGA event

October 16, 2018

SEOGWIPO, South Korea, Oct. 16 (Yonhap) — Im Sung-jae, a hotshot rookie on the PGA Tour, has come home again, ready to put on a show before fans anticipating big things out of the 20-year-old with what should be a bright future.

Times are good for Im, who will be competing at the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges starting Thursday on his native Jeju Island. He earned his PGA Tour card for the 2018-2019 season after leading the Web.com Tour in money last season. And he nearly won in his PGA debut two weeks ago, as he ended up one stroke shy of a three-way playoff at Safeway Open.

His quick start to his PGA Tour career, plus his hometown boy status, likely landed him in a marquee pairing for the first two rounds with Brooks Koepka, world No. 3 and the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, and Justin Thomas, world No. 4 and defending CJ Cup champion.

Im Sung-jae of South Korea speaks at a press conference ahead of the PGA Tour's CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges at the Club at Nine Bridges in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, on Oct. 16, 2018, in this photo courtesy of JNA Golf. (Yonhap)

Im Sung-jae of South Korea speaks at a press conference ahead of the PGA Tour’s CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges at the Club at Nine Bridges in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, on Oct. 16, 2018, in this photo courtesy of JNA Golf. (Yonhap)

“I was a bit surprised when I saw the pairings,” Im said at his pre-tournament press conference Tuesday. “I am excited and nervous at the same time. I know I won’t get opportunities like this very often, and I am thankful. The course is spectacular, and the greens are in excellent shape.”

Im said he hadn’t been home for about eight months and that the CJ Cup couldn’t have come soon enough.

“I am really comfortable being home now,” Im said. ” It’s great to have a PGA tournament in my hometown.”

Koepka and Thomas are both long hitters — they were eighth and 11th last season in average driving distance at 313 yards and 311.9 yards — but Im said he’s also looking forward to getting a closer look at their short game, especially their wedge play from 100 yards and in, and their shots around the green.

Im said playing on the Web.com Tour prepared him for the PGA Tour on some practical levels.

“In the second half of last season, the course settings became increasingly more difficult with each passing tournament,” he said. “The greens got harder and harder. And when I got to the PGA Tour, tough conditions weren’t new to me. That’s why I was able to post a good result in my first tournament.”

Im is currently the third-highest ranked South Korean at No. 94, behind An Byeong-hun (No. 48) and Kim Si-woo (No. 57). Im said the goal is to reach around 60s in the rankings by the end of the calendar year, and then to go all the way up to 30s by the end of the PGA Tour season in August 2019.

Such a climb would also help Im’s case for a spot on the International Team at the 2019 Presidents Cup. The biennial match play competition pits the U.S. team against a team of non-European international players. In 2017, Kim Si-woo was the lone South Korean representative.

Hall of Famer Ernie Els will be the International Team captain, and earlier Tuesday at his own presser, Els called Im “the real deal.”

“I remember watching the Presidents Cup on television when I was a kid and thinking to myself I wanted to play there,” Im said. “My goal is to do well on the tour this season and make the team.”

In this photo provided by JNA Golf, Im Sung-jae of South Korea watches his tee shot on the 17th hole during the practice round before the PGA Tour's CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges at the Club at Nine Bridges in Seogwipo on Jeju Island, South Korea, on Oct. 16, 2018. (Yonhap)

In this photo provided by JNA Golf, Im Sung-jae of South Korea watches his tee shot on the 17th hole during the practice round before the PGA Tour’s CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges at the Club at Nine Bridges in Seogwipo on Jeju Island, South Korea, on Oct. 16, 2018. (Yonhap)

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