Korean duo Sungjae Im and K.H. Lee, along with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, will celebrate personal career milestones at the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club as they seek to become the first ever FedExCup champion from Asia this week.
As the PGA TOUR’s season reaches its climax with the FedExCup Playoffs Finale, the trio’s presence in Atlanta to battle for the TOUR’s ultimate prize is sprinkled with noteworthy records which reinforce the current strength of Asian golf.
This is the first time since the launch of the FedExCup in 2007 that three Asian golfers have qualified amongst the elite top-30 players for the TOUR Championship while Matsuyama, a holder of eight PGA TOUR wins including two this season, is making his ninth consecutive appearance at East Lake, the best streak amongst active players.
Im is also the first Korean to qualify for four successive TOUR Championship appearances, surpassing K.J. Choi’s record, while Lee, who like Im is a two-time TOUR winner, is making his debut appearance.
“K.H., Hideki and me … three players in the field this week, this means a lot. It means Asian players are getting much better and coming up to the top tier,” the 24-year-old Im said on Wednesday.
“The reason I think behind this is the mentality. I think Asian players have good mentality. We have some disadvantages physically, compared to Western players. However I’m confident we have strong mentality to stay on track. I think that’s how three players made it to the TOUR Championship this week.”
Im will begin the staggered-start TOUR Championship based on players’ FedExCup rankings at 4-under in the first round, six shots behind leader Scottie Scheffler. He is proud of the fact that he has surpassed countryman Choi’s record of three successive appearances in the season finale. Choi appeared in the TOUR Championship on eight occasions – 2002 to 2004, 2006 to 2008, 2010 and 2011.
“I think it’s the first time ever a Korean player has made it into four consecutive years at the TOUR Championship. It’s an honour to have this kind of record. It means I have done great in the last four years. To be able to proceed into the Playoffs Finale means I had great performances during the season, so I’m happy and I want to keep coming out here,” said Im.
Lee, 30, qualified for East Lake on the back of a tied fifth finish at last week’s BMW Championship which pushed him into 26th place on the FedExCup standings. It atoned for last year’s disappointment of missing out by one rung. Lee will begin the first round on Thursday on even par.
“I’m so happy I’m here but at the same time I’m feeling a bit nervous,” said Lee, who successfully defended his AT&T Byron Nelson title in May.
“First place will start on 10-under which is a huge difference. However, I’m not trying to think much about the strokes difference and will focus on my own game. I’m trying to narrow the gap and see if I can get close on Sunday. That is my goal this week.”
The best Asian finisher in FedExCup history is Choi, who finished fourth in the inaugural year in 2007. Im’s best finish was 11th in 2020, the year he entered the third round in second place while Matsuyama’s highest finish was eighth in 2017 when he finished the Regular Season as the No. 1 ranked player.
“It will be such an honour,” Lee responded when asked what it would mean to win the FedExCup on Sunday. “I cannot describe with words. It will be like an amazing dream, will be unbelievable.”
With Atlanta being his U.S. base, Im, who has also qualified for his second International Team to play in the Presidents Cup next month, says sleeping in his own bed is a treat considering the number of weeks he is on the road.
He will carry some impressive form itno the week following back-to-back runner-up finishes at the 3M Open and Wyndham Championship, T12 at the FedEx St. Jude Championship and T15 at last week’s BMW Championship.
“It’s special for me where the TOUR Championship is happening in Atlanta and I get to play our biggest tournament of the year traveling from home. I get to sleep in my own bed which I’m more comfortable with and this makes me think like it doesn’t feel like a tournament week,” said Im.
“Even though I will be starting six strokes behind, this course is all about the good flow from the start. If I’m able to make good scores from the beginning without any mistakes, I think I can reduce the difference. I’m not trying to focus on catching the leader and will stick to my game plan,” added the Korean, who has four under par rounds out of 12 rounds at East Lake.