Korean golf star Sungjae Im is treating his debut appearance at the Olympic Games in Tokyo this month as his “last chance,” saying it would be a memory of a lifetime if he can secure a medal of any colour.
The world’s 27th-ranked golfer will be joined in Japan by fellow PGA TOUR winner, Si Woo Kim, as the duo seeks podium finishes at Kasumigaseki Country Club from July 29 to August 1. They will face a stellar field featuring five of the world’s top-10 golfers, as well as local hero Hideki Matsuyama, Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, Norway’s Viktor Hovland and Great Britain’s Paul Casey.
Im, 23, does not need to look far for inspiration as Korea’s leading woman golfer, Inbee Park, claimed an historic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro five years ago when golf made its welcome return into the Olympic program following a 112-year hiatus.
The Korean golfer has emerged as one of the game’s most exciting young stars since he first burst onto the PGA TOUR scene in 2019, when he was named Rookie of the Year and later produced a standout performance in his Presidents Cup debut.
Such is the importance of the Olympic Games that both Im and Kim opted to skip this week’s Open Championship in England to focus fully on their preparations for Tokyo.
“If I make a pledge for this Olympics, I will treat this opportunity as if it is the last chance. My goal is to do my best, and to think this is an opportunity that will not come again,” said Im, who holds one PGA TOUR victory, at the 2020 Honda Classic.
“I would be so happy to win a medal and it will be a memorable moment in my life. It may not be easy but I want to help the team because I am a representative of Korea. If I can win a medal, it will be a huge record in my career. It will be a lot of help while playing on the PGA TOUR too.
“Not everyone can participate in the Olympic Games, which makes the Olympics so special. I’ll do my best to win a gold medal or a medal. I have a lot of records on the PGA TOUR and a Korean male golfer has never won a medal in the Olympics. I hope I can create a new record.”
Im’s meteoric rise began on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2018, when he won twice en route to becoming the Player of the Year. He has since become a regular name inside the world’s top-30, and this season he has registered four top-10s on the PGA TOUR, including a tie for second at the Masters Tournament last November. He believes there is still room for improvement.
“To be a good golfer, self-management is important because you have to find and supplement what you lack. Stamina and mental strength are also important. To be the best player, you need to have a different sense of approach than others, but it takes a lot of effort to achieve that. I think I’ll be a great player when I have all these things,” he said.
Meanwhile, securing a third career PGA TOUR win earlier this year has given the 26-year-old Kim a shot in the arm as he aims to play his way to a podium finish in Tokyo. “I did not win for a long time and because I won (The American Express) with some difficulty, I gained more confidence for the future and it was a very meaningful victory for me. Sometimes, I even questioned myself if I could ever win again but after my last victory, my confidence increased,” said Kim, whose others wins include the 2017 PLAYERS Championship, where he emerged as the youngest champion at the PGA TOUR’s flagship tournament, and the 2016 Wyndham Championship.
Being an ardent football (soccer) fan, Kim remembers watching his country secure the bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics where Korea defeated Japan 2-0 for third place. The Koreans also caused a massive upset by beating the host nation, Team Great Britain, in the quarterfinals via a penalty shootout.
“The most impressive thing was our Olympic soccer team did their best to win a medal in London. At that time, golf was not an Olympic sport but now that golf has become an official sport, I hope I can achieve good results too and become a good memory for Korean sports,” said Kim, who is currently ranked 52nd in the world.
“I have put in a lot of effort to be competitive. As much as I’ve struggled, I think winning a medal will be meaningful. I will work hard to get a medal. I won’t have any special mindset for Tokyo but because I am representing Korea, I feel very proud. I think I will be happy if I can win a medal. I’m participating as a representative of Korea, and not as an individual. Hence, I want to win on Korea’s behalf.”
Five years ago in Rio, the Korean men’s golf team was represented by Byeong Hun An and Jeunghun Wang, who finished tied 11th and equal 43rd, respectively.