The 22-year-old Im will spearhead a strong 11-man Korean contingent at the US$9.75 million showpiece, which was moved from its home base of Korea to the acclaimed Shadow Creek in Vegas due to ongoing challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Already a one-time winner on the PGA TOUR, Im finished T41 and T39 in the 2018 and 2019 tournaments respectively and is eager to leave a better impression in the tournament which the title sponsor is also one of his personal backers.
“The past two years, I've always finished in the middle of the pack, around 30th to 40th place. Hopefully this year, I can finish either in the top-10 or the top-5 if possible. This is obviously my sponsor’s event, so I would like to really thank my sponsor for making this event possible. As a thank you, I hope I can produce some good results,” said Im, who will be in the company of defending champion Justin Thomas and 2018 winner Brooks Koepka in the opening two rounds.
Im hopes the switch in venue to the Tom Fazio masterpiece could bring about a change in fortune as he seeks to become the first Korean winner of THE CJ CUP. “I found that it's a great course and it's a very difficult course, so I hope I can use the experiences from the past two days to have a good result,” he said.
“I had my first victory at The Honda Classic this year and if I were to win this tournament as my second victory, I think my happiness would be two-fold. I hope I can do my best and produce the best result that I can.”
The presence of his fellow countrymen at Shadow Creek has ensured Im remained relaxed as he chases a second PGA TOUR victory. He enters the week in good form, having finished T13 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last Sunday. He posted a 22nd place result in the U.S. Open last month and was T28 at the Sanderson Farms Open.
“I played with one of my college friends, Seonghyeong Kim, who's here, and today I was able to play with a couple of other Korean players who I trained for the national team with and who I grew up playing golf with. So we were able to play a really fun round and it was really great,” said Im, who finished as the highest ranked Asian at 11th place in the final 2019-20 FedExCup standings.
Still only 22, Im, who was a member of the International Team at the Presidents Cup last December where he contributed 3.5 points, is already playing the role of “big brother” and sharing his experiences with other Korean golfers in hope that more of them will make their way onto the PGA TOUR. One such promising young Korean golfer is Joohyung Kim, an 18-year-old who has already won five professional titles and featuring in this week’s field.
“I honestly think it's so great that golf is growing in Korea and more players are coming out from Korea. I hope to see more and more of my fellow Korean golfers come over to the United States, and when they do, I will do my best to relay my experiences to help them grow as well abroad,” he said.
Thomas, a two-time winner of THE CJ CUP, is one of the many growing admirers of Im’s success. “I think impressive is an understatement. He's way beyond his years for how young he is and how well he's handled his situation. I know especially being a Korean star in golf, the spotlight's on you.”
Si Woo Kim, the 2017 PLAYERS Champion, is also in good form ahead of THE CJ CUP after finishing tied eighth last week. “The most important thing is to keep it on the fairways because I’m feeling confident with my iron play. So if I can focus on that, I think I’ll have good results,” said the 25-year-old.
“Last week I didn't really have a clear goal in mind, I just wanted to play well and make the cut and then on the weekend do what I wanted to do, and I felt like I was able to do that last week and it ended up with good results. This week I'm trying to do the same. Even though there's no cut, play well for four days, persevere, really focus on what I learned and hopefully that can translate into even a top 10 finish or even better.”