Asian golf celebrated a record of three players advancing into the TOUR Championship following a final day flourish by Korea’s K.H. Lee, who finished tied fifth at the BMW Championship after a superb 6-under 65 on Sunday.
Lee, who was heartbroken after missing the FedExCup Playoffs Finale by one rung last season, joins countryman Sungjae Im and Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta where the top-30 will battle for the PGA TOUR’s ultimate prize, the FedExCup.
Rising star Joohyung “Tom” Kim failed to extend his dream run after finishing tied 54th at the BMW Championship to bow out of the Playoffs – dropping from 25th to 33rd in the standings – but it was still a Sunday to remember when the 20-year-old officially sealed a debut appearance for the International Team who will face the United States in the Presidents Cup next month.
The 24-year-old Im qualified for his fourth successive TOUR Championship (10th in the FedExCup standings) and second Presidents Cup appearances, while eight-time PGA TOUR winner Matsuyama (17th in the FedExCup) earned his ninth successive TOUR Championship and fifth Presidents Cup appearances.
Lee missed the International Team by one rung and will now rely on a captain’s pick. He was, however, relieved to qualify for the TOUR Championship after improving from 33rd to 26th position in the final day of qualifying.
“Honestly a lot of pressure this week. Last year I finished 31st, so I didn’t want to be in the same spot this year. I mean, 31st is a really cruel spot. I was trying to not think about my position, just try my best. Really good start in the first four holes, so that really helped,” said the 30-year-old Korean, who opened with four successive birdies at Wilmington Country Club.
Following his hot start, Lee swapped one more birdie against a bogey on the 10th hole before finishing strongly with birdies on Hole Nos. 16 and 17 from 12 feet and four feet respectively to punch his ticket to Atlanta.
“I mean, so cool. Four days in a row, first hole birdie, and then second hole birdie. Third, fourth … already 4-under,” he said. “Maybe feels like my day. I tried to keep playing play well and then finished well. Definitely way happier.”
Lee, who successfully defended his AT&T Byron Nelson title in May, will start the TOUR Championship in 26th place at even par in the staggered tournament based on FedExCup positions following the BMW Championship.
He will be 10 shots back of current leader Scottie Scheffler who regained his No. 1 spot with a tied third finish on Sunday. Im starts on 4-under while Matsuyama will begin at 2-under.
Lee intends to put up a strong debut to give himself a chance of earning a pick for the Presidents Cup. “I want to … I hope to play in the Presidents Cup. Also before, I had a little pressure on myself, but just myself, just trying to play well. If I get there, it’s going to be really an honour for me,” said Lee.
Tom Kim, whose rapid rise on the PGA TOUR culminated with a win at the Wyndham Championship two weeks ago, will be the second youngest International Team player to compete in the Presidents Cup after Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa (2009/2011). “It’s crazy. I can’t really believe I’ll be play in the Presidents Cup. It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid and I’ve watched it all the time, so it’s going to be exciting for me to be able to play on the International Team, and hopefully I can be a good contribution,” said Kim.
“I didn’t really think that this year I’d be able to play. I was pretty far away, and the last couple of months has really changed. It means a lot.”
Captain Immelman is excited to have Kim join his International Team, who will be looking for only its second victory over the Americans at Quail Hollow next month.
“As I look at the landscape of international golf, it is great to see so much young talent breaking through and right at the top of that list is Tom Kim. His incredible play this summer vaulted him into the top eight on our points list, and watching his Sunday performance at the Wyndham Championship give way to his first victory on the PGA TOUR was a tremendous moment for the International Team, as well as our game. I can’t wait for him to bring his youthful energy to Quail Hollow Club.”
The other top-8 automatic qualifiers for the International Team are Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann, Corey Conners, Adam Scott and Mito Pereira while the top-6 qualifiers for the U.S. are Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Sam Burns, Scottie Scheffler and Tony Finau. Immelman will make four captain’s picks early next month while his counterpart, Davis Love III will pick six players.