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Im wins 1st Web.com Tour at 19

Jan 18,2018
Im Sung-jae after winning the 2018 Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay on Tuesday. Im became the second youngest golfer to win the Web.com Tour event at age 19. [PLAYWORKS]
Rookie Im Sung-jae picked up his first Web.com Tour victory in his first appearance during The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay on Tuesday.

After playing the remaining holes from the third round early Tuesday morning, Im played a bogey-free round of seven under par, 65, in the final round to finish four shots ahead of Carlos Ortiz of Mexico. Im finished the tournament at 13 under par.

“There was a lot of wind today, so I tried to hit punch shots,” Im was quoted as saying on the Web.com Tour website. “At first, they weren’t working, but I stuck with it and finally started hitting them low, which led to some birdie chances.”

Though the Web.com Tour is a second-division PGA tour, Im’s victory means a lot, as he became the second-youngest golfer, after Jason Day of Australia, to win on the Web.com Tour at age 19.

“I’m so happy,” Im was quoted as saying. “Everyone told me how tough it was to win on the Web.com Tour. I never expected to win this quickly, but I’m so happy about this victory.”

Im became the 16th player to win the event in its first appearance and the seventh Korean-born golfer to do so.

“I’m so happy to join them as a champion and hope someday to be on the PGA Tour with them,” Im was quoted as saying.

As the course’s tight fairways required accurate tee shots, Im said playing on the JGTO tournaments helped.

While still in high school in 2016, Im played on both the KPGA and the JGTO Tour, finishing 75th on the KPGA Tour and 59th on the JGTO Tour money list. Then the 19-year-old made a significant improvement last season, finishing 12th on the JGTO money list while having eight top-ten finishes. On the KPGA Tour, he finished 53rd on the money list by playing in only five tournaments.

Rather than playing in the JGTO’s season finale, Im left to the United States to play in the Qualifying School, where he finished runner-up. Though the 2017 season allowed Im to make a significant improvement in his golfing career, he didn’t have a professional win on his resume. But now he does with the Web.com Tour debut event.

By winning the season opener, he is one step closer to the PGA Tour next season. The top 25 players on the 2018 Web.com Tour money list are given a place in the PGA Tour for the next season. Compared to the 25th player last season, who earned $160,000, Im is very likely to make his way to the Tour in 2019, as he already won $108,000.

Not only that, rather than waiting for next season, he also has a shot at advancing to the PGA Tour this season, by winning two more Web.com Tour events. A player is given immediate status to the PGA Tour if they win three tournaments on the Web.com Tour.

“Jeju Island is my hometown,” Im was quoted as saying. “When I was a kid, I played the CJ Nine Bridges Golf Club. I want to have a chance to play that event someday.”

Aside from earning full status on the PGA Tour, Im is very likely to make his PGA Tour debut at the CJ Cup. Since CJ is the major tournament sponsor and Im’s main sponsor, he is likely to receive a sponsor exemption even if he doesn’t qualify.

BY SUNG HO-JUN, KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]