The Well-Traveled Sungjae Im Learning to Stay in One Place
By Doug Ferguson, AP Golf Writer
Sungjae Im of South Korea wave on the tenth green during the first round of The PLAYERS Championship on The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 12, 2020 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images
Sungjae Im has played in nine countries and 19 U.S. states since his rookie season on the PGA Tour, moving from hotel to hotel during the most prolific schedule among top players in golf.
Being in one spot for so long because of the coronavirus pandemic is an adjustment. Im has been staying with a family friend in Tampa, Florida, since the tour shut down on March 13.
Just don't get the idea the 22-year-old South Korean is bored. He still plays just about every day.
“It's fortunate the golf courses here have not been shut down during this crisis,” Im said in an email Q&A.
The time away from travel and the routine of tournament week — practice, pro-am, competition — has allowed him to experience some of the finer aspects of Florida life.
“I have never fished in my life before, but I went several times during the break and it was pretty exciting,” Im said. “Caught some catfish! Next time I would like to try deep-sea fishing and catch something bigger!”
Im is one of the emerging young starts on the PGA Tour. He reached the Tour Championship and was voted rookie of the year last season, went 3-1-1 with three partners in his Presidents Cup debut at Royal Melbourne, won his first PGA Tour title at the Honda Classic and finished third the following week at Bay Hill.
He is leading the FedEx Cup whenever the season resumes, currently targeted for June 11-14 at Colonial. But he hasn't had this much time away from tournament golf since 2016, his first season on the Japan Golf Tour.
His longest streak is 10 consecutive weeks the following year on the Japan Golf Tour. On the Korn Ferry Tour, he played 17 consecutive weeks (including majors). Since joining the PGA Tour, the most he has played is six in a row.
So yes, he misses the competition.
His parents are with him in Tampa. Im has an older brother in South Korea, and he says he is doing well. Im said his coach came over from South Korea a few weeks ago and they spent a lot of time together.
“We have a great relationship-friendship, and it's been nice having him here. Spent some quality time together on and off the golf course,” Im said. “I have been playing golf almost every day, so I'll be ready once a date is set.”
He has much to gain. The tour has said if it can start in June and play the schedule it has planned, that would be 36 events for the season, which it has deemed ample for the FedEx Cup. Im has a 55-point lead over Justin Thomas and a 279-point margin over Rory McIlroy.
“I feel good about my current FedEx Cup position and feel like I have earned it up to this point,” he said.
He might even buy a house and “settle down." Among the possibilities is Atlanta.
“I have practiced at TPC Sugarloaf before and the neighborhood there is clean and quiet,” he said. “Korean restaurants are not too far away and the Atlanta airport offers nonstop flights to nearly every tournament site (also a direct flight home to Korea)."
He might even find a few good fishing spots.