AUGUSTA • Debutant Im Sung-jae knows exactly what he would serve at the Champions Dinner should he, in the near future, produce a Masters Tournament victory.
“Marinated ribs,” said the South Korean, a self-confessed foodie. “I feel like players of all nationality would love that and I would of course cook them in the Korean style.”
The 22-year-old wunderkind makes his Masters debut this week at Augusta National, qualifying for the storied event by virtue of his win at The Honda Classic in March.
Since becoming the Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year in 2018, his career has blossomed to the point that some seasoned observers believe he is very much capable of winning a Major.
Justin Thomas, the 2017 FedExCup champion, has played enough golf with Im to know the Korean rising star is the real deal.
“I think impressive is an understatement. He’s way beyond his years for how young he is and how well he’s handled his situation,” the American said.
“The shots that he hits, to have that much variety in your game and be able to hit it high, really high with spin and hit it low and flight it and hold it up against the winds, both left to right and right to left, is very impressive.”
Im will need to once again master those shots if he is to have a chance this week. Augusta National has not seen a debutant don the Green Jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller won the Masters in his first visit in 1979, some 18 years before Im was born.
Still, he is looking forward to testing his creativity at Augusta National, and remembers well the famous chip-in birdie by Tiger Woods on the 16th hole en route to winning the tournament in 2005.
“That curving chip shot from the back of the green really stands out for me. I think I was about eight or nine years old when I saw that,” said Im.
“I’m incredibly proud to compete as a Korean player. Since this is my Masters debut, I do feel the pressure of competing in a Major, but I hope to overcome that and play my own game.”
In Masters history, Korea’s K.J. Choi has come closest to winning the tournament following his third-place finish in 2004.
With Asia seeking a long-awaited second Major winner following Y.E. Yang’s triumph at the 2009 PGA Championship and first at the Masters, Im is fully aware of the pressure to perform consistently at the game’s highest level.
“Since this is a Major, I would like to first make the cut. After that, I would be happy with a top-15 or top-20 finish,” said the world’s 25th-ranked player.
“I hope to adjust to the course quickly and perform well. I’ve heard from other players the winds tend to swirl, so I expect it to change directions constantly. I also know the undulation on the greens will be severe and I’ll have to take all of those into consideration.”
Another Asian debutant inspired by Woods’ performance in 2005 is C.T. Pan, the first golfer from Chinese Taipei since Lin Wen-tang in 2009 to qualify for the Masters.
“I will always remember that scene,” said the 28-year-old, who makes his debut thanks largely to his maiden victory at the 2019 RBC Heritage. “And now, through years of hard work, I can finally stand on the tee of the first hole at the Masters.”
To prepare, he played a practice round at Augusta National with a club member two weeks ago. He absorbed all that he could, scribbling notes on his yardage book, especially pertaining to the course’s famed lightning-quick greens.
“I have tried to remember every distance, like the distance from tee box to a bunker. I will play with more confidence then,” he said. “The member gave me a lot of advice. I think the greens will be fast and firm during the tournament and the weather could be cold especially in the morning… I’ll aim at the widest part of the fairway, from where I will attack the green. I’ll carefully study every pin position every evening before the round.”