To avoid Masters curse, S. Korean Im Sung-jae takes leisurely stroll at Par 3 Contest

April 7, 2023

So hard is Im Sung-jae trying to win his Masters title this week that, when he found himself in early contention at the annual Par 3 Contest at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, on Wednesday, the South Korean player decided to stop keeping score.

That’s because Im was aware of the curse of the Par 3 Contest.

The exhibition began in 1960, 26 years after the first Masters, and no winner of the contest has gone on to capture the Masters in the same year.

Im birdied two of his first three holes and reached three-under through six. Im’s final score was four-under, but the organizers listed Im as “NS,” as in not scored, along with 54 other contestants. Tom Hoge of the United States won the Par 3 Contest at six-under.

“I heard about the curse, so I didn’t even play that hard,” Im told reporters afterward. “But then I had two birdies on the first three holes.”

The annual exhibition is mostly a family affair, with players bringing out their wives, girlfriends, children or parents as caddies.

Im, who got married in December last year, had his wife on the bag.

“It was a little hot out here today, but I had a great time with my wife,” Im said. “She told me she enjoyed seeing me play up close.”

Im tied for second place in 2020 and then tied for eighth last year. He has two career PGA Tour titles but has not yet won a major.

“I prefer hot conditions because I hit the ball farther in that type of weather,” Im said. “I am hitting the ball well. I will try to have a good tournament this week.”

Another South Korean player, Kim Si-woo, also had his wife of four months as caddie — seven-time Korea LPGA winner Oh Ji-hyun.

Players often have their caddies attempt a chip or a putt, but Kim let Oh play the 115-yard ninth hole from tee to green.

And Oh didn’t disappoint, as she stuck a 9-iron to about 2 feet from the hole and made the putt for a birdie. Kim tied for fourth at four-under.

“I hit a full bucket of balls on the range today. I didn’t want to put a ball in the water here,” Oh said with a smile. “I always wanted to come to the Masters, and I want to thank my husband for making it happen.”

Kim, in turn, thanked Oh for her unwavering support and for helping him become a more consistent and resilient player.

“Some of the guys here knew she is a professional golfer herself, and I felt so proud seeing her play well here,” said Kim, who has four career PGA Tour wins. “In the past, it was either a top-10 or well out of contention for me. I would start out playing aggressively, and then give up easily. But with Ji-hyun by my side, I am playing hard from start to finish.”

As for the forecast of thunderstorms and inclement conditions for the rest of the week, Kim said: “I have experience playing in bad weather. I should still have my chances if I prepare myself well this week.”

Kim Joo-hyung, the 20-year-old South Korean about to make his Masters debut, said he had a blast playing the Par 3 Contest with world No. 1. Scottie Scheffler and No. 11 Sam Burns.

“It was so much fun,” said Kim, who will play the first two rounds with Burns and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy.

“I will probably be a bit nervous once the tournament starts, but I will try to keep playing the way I’ve been playing all along.”