AUGUSTA, Ga. – In his Masters debut in November, Sungjae Im posted rounds of 66-70-68-69 to finish at 15 under – a score that would have won 80 of the 84 Masters played. Unfortunately, Im ran into Dustin Johnson and lost by five.
Im, however, was far from disappointed. It was the best result by a rookie since Jordan Spieth finished second in 2014. And he had fulfilled a boyhood dream of playing in the Masters, one that took hold as he watched the tournament growing up in South Korea.
“To pick one vivid memory out of all of them that happened that week, it would be playing in the final group in the final round with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson,” Im said. “I started the week just wanting to make the cut. Then I had a chance to win. But Dustin Johnson is a great player. I learned a lot in the final round.
“That round, the whole week, too, it was self-confidence for me. It was a learning experience for me and I learned I could perform at a major level.”
There could be many more final rounds at Augusta National in Im’s future.
After turning pro at age 17, he was the Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year in 2018, earned Rookie of the Year honors on the PGA Tour in 2019, and won his lone PGA Tour title in the Honda Classic in 2020.
Just 23, he’s become well known in the professional ranks for two reasons.
The first is his durability – he plays more golf than anyone. He played a PGA Tour-high 61 events in 2019 and 2020 combined and intended to play 11 events in 2021 before driving down Magnolia Lane.
The second is his nickname – Iron Byron, which is the name of the U.S. Golf Association’s mechanical golf ball tester that honors Byron Nelson, the godfather of the modern swing.
The story goes that on the Monday of the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in Australia, it was so windy that Im was the only player on the International squad to play that day.
“I certainly didn’t even think about touching any of the holes because I didn’t want to destroy my confidence,” 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott said. “So we ended up walking out and watching (Im) play a few holes. Even in a 25-miles-an-hour wind, he was just fairway, green, fairway, green, and like Iron Byron, like watching a machine.”
Many of his peers predict he will be known as a major champion, too.
But if Im is to become a major winner in his second start in the Masters, he’ll have to relearn the course he played five months ago.
“I have the course visually in my mind,” he said. “My impression of Augusta National was that the fairways and greens were much softer than what I saw watching TV when I was a kid. And I’ve never played the Masters in April so it will be a different challenge. I will have to learn how to play the course again if it’s fast and firm. But it will be a good challenge.”