Korea’s Sungjae Im is prepared to sprint towards the coveted FedExCup title when the PGA TOUR makes a long-awaited return at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas starting on Thursday.
The 22-year-old prodigy will resume the season in No. 1 position on the points list after a maiden PGA TOUR victory at The Honda Classic and a third place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard in March.
His imperious run of form, following on from a standout 2019 where he was voted Rookie of the Year, came to a halt when the Covid-19 pandemic forced the suspension of play in mid-March. Following a three-month hiatus, the talented Korean is ready to pick up from where he left off as he bids to become the first Asian winner of the PGA TOUR’s prestigious season-long prize.
“I know I’ll be incredibly excited to be at the first tournament back, and my goal is to make it to the weekend at Colonial,” said Im.
“I’m thankful the players will have a chance to compete. Even though there won’t be fans in attendance at the first four events, I’m looking forward to our first tournament back. I hope to play as many events as I can, but I’ll probably take a week off somewhere around the halfway point.”
With an abbreviated season, 14 events remain and will culminate with the FedExCup Playoff finale, The TOUR Championship in early September. The winner will walk away with golf’s biggest prize of US$15 million.
“I would, of course, like to win the FedExCup, but there are so many strong competitors. It’s easy to forget that I’ll actually be leading when play resumes. I was playing well before the season was delayed. If I were to win the FedExCup, I don’t think I could even put into words what it would mean to me. It would definitely be a turning point in my career, and it motivates me to have a strong season. Even though we still have a long way to go, I will try not to be too greedy and rather, focus on the task at hand.”
The Charles Schwab Challenge will boast a stellar field this week. The top five players on the Official World Golf Ranking are slated to appear at Colonial – the first time it has happened at the Fort Worth, Texas, event since 1986.
No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is the reigning FedExCup champion, and No. 4 Justin Thomas are playing at Colonial for the first time while No. 2 Jon Rahm is making his fourth start and No. 3 Brooks Koepka is making his second. No. 5 Dustin Johnson is making his third Colonial start, but his first since 2014. Thomas and McIlroy are among the top nine players in the FedExCup standings who slated to play. Of the top 20 in the standings, 17 will be at Colonial, including defending champ Kevin Na, who is 11th.
To keep his game in shape during the enforced break, Im flew his -time coach Hyun Choi to Tampa to help keep an eye on his swing. “My game was in great shape until this break, so I fortunately didn’t have to make too many changes. I just stuck to my usual practice routine and played every day. I’m not the type to make too many swing changes, so he (Choi) came over mainly to help me keep what I already have. We’re very close, and he’s been working with me since I was in high school. Even though he’s a great mentor, he’s also a great friend. So, I had a lot of fun when he was here. His mere presence made me feel more at ease,” said Im.
“As everyone knows, I like to play in a lot of events. I made 35 starts last season and was at 14 of the 16 tournaments to start this year. So, it’s been disappointing for me to not be able to compete these last couple of months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Actually, as I look back at my career, I think this may be the longest break from competition I’ve ever had.”
Since becoming the Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year in 2018, Im’s stock has risen sharply that fellow competitors who have played alongside him have rated him highly and predicted great things for Im. His win at The Honda only confirmed his potential, which came four months after an impressive Presidents Cup debut where he delivered 3.5 points for the International Team including a singles victory over Gary Woodland.
“As everyone knows, you can’t be too greedy in this game. I just want to take it one tournament at a time and give it my best to let the results speak for my game. I know that if I stick to my usual game plan and the way I play, I’ll have a chance. Obviously, my ultimate goal is to make it to the TOUR Championship.”