The Hardest Working Man in Golf: Im Sungjae

By Ryan Watson

South Korean golfer Im Sungjae (sometimes written Sungjae Im) made a big impression in his debut 2018-19 PGA Tour, eventually earning Rookie of the Year honors. Though only 22 years old, Im has earned a reputation as the hardest working golfer in the sport for the amount of events he plays and the hectic travel schedule he has maintained throughout his short professional career.

Early Career

Im turned professional in 2015 at the age of 17 after proving his worth as an amatuer in various Asian competitions. By 2016, he had earned a spot on the Japan Golf Tour, supplementing this with some events on the Korean Tour. Im had yet to win a Japan Tour in 2017, but his consistent play saw him finish the year with the 5th best scoring average and he decided to try his hand at the Korn Ferry Tour Q-School. The Korn Ferry Tour acts as the supplemental tour to the PGA Tour and is now a necessary stepping stone to the PGA Tour. Im finished second, earning a spot on the Korn Ferry Tour for 2018.

Im would start the season with a bang, winning the first event of the season at just 19 years old. The win at the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic made Im the 2nd youngest winner in the history of the tour, behind only fellow 19-year-old Jason Day. Im continued his fine form, finishing second 3 times and winning the WinCo Foods Portland Open. Im was the regular season money leader and awarded the Player of the Year, good enough to earn him a PGA Tour card for the 2018-2019 season.

Well Traveled

Im quickly earned a reputation for his travel schedule on Tour, often playing 4, 5, or 6 weeks in a row while most other golfers skip events every 2-3 weeks. Playing many consecutive weeks isn’t uncommon for Im, who once went 10 weeks in a row on the Japan Tour and an utterly insane 17 weeks in a row on the Korn Ferry Tour. Such travel is normal for Im, who still has no recognized home and truly lives out of his suitcase. In all, Im played 35 events--6 more than the closest competitor at the 2019 Tour Championship.

His year was a good one by all measures, he had 7 top-10 finishes and became only the 13th rookie to qualify for the Tour Championship. In the final FedEx Cup standings, Im finished tied with Rickie Fowler for 19th and made over $3.3 million for the season. Im’s consistency also saw him awarded the Rookie of the Season Award. In addition, Im competed in the Presidents Cup, boasting an impressive 3-1-1 record for the International Team.

The Future

Im continued his form into the 2019-2020 season, competing in 14 of the 16 tournaments that have taken place. During those starts, he lost a playoff against Sebastian Munoz at the 2019 Sanderson Farms Championship before claiming his first PGA Tour win at the 2020 Honda Classic. The win pushed Im into first place in the FedEx Cup standings, where he remains during the current PGA Tour hiatus. With the PGA Tour set to resume in June with a shortened schedule, Im has a real chance to make history if he can maintain his form. Im also has an eye on the rescheduled 2020 Olympics as the highest ranked Korean golfer. If Im can medal in the event, he will earn an exemption for the mandatory 2 years of military service that all South Korean men must complete by age 30. The time off is certainly new to Im, but if he can keep his skills sharp the future certainly looks bright for one of golf’s rising stars.

About the Author

Ryan Watson is a freelance sportswriter and history professor. He has been an avid fan of golf since his father signed him up for golf camp as a young child. Ryan enjoys following the professional game and learning about new equipment and gadgets.