Sungjae Im’s stats leapt off the page last season
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Balanced improvement through the bag has FedExCup runner-up among PGA TOUR elite
Written by Justin Ray, @JustinRayGolf
Sungjae Im | Iron Man
Sungjae Im established himself among the PGA TOUR’s best young players through his first three full seasons.
After winning Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year in 2018, he was named PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year in ’19 and went 3-1-1 for the International Presidents Cup Team that lost at the wire at Royal Melbourne. He beat a strong field to win the 2020 Honda Classic, his first TOUR title, and tied for second at the Masters Tournament that November.
But in winning the Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas last fall, the Korean star launched into a new phase of his burgeoning professional success. He bookended his week with rounds of 63 and 62 and won by four shots, also leading the field in greens in regulation (86.1%), scrambling (90.0%) and Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (2.62 per round). Im finished 13th or better in every Strokes Gained category that week, a harbinger of the balanced excellence he would go on to achieve for the rest of 2022.
Still just 24 years old, Im has evolved from promising potential star to one of the most complete players in the game.
Gaining strokes everywhere
Im never ranked worse than 31st in Strokes Gained: Total in any of his first three full seasons on TOUR, enjoying above-average numbers with both his ball-striking and performance on the greens. He is one of just 10 players to average 0.40 Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (combining shots off the tee and approaching the green) and 0.40 Strokes Gained: Short Game (around the green and putts) per round since the beginning of his rookie campaign in 2018-19.
In 2022, though, he got even better. From 2021 to 2022, Im improved his ranking in all four of the primary Strokes Gained disciplines measured by ShotLink: Off-the-Tee, Approach the Green, Around the Green and Putting.
Im was one of 15 qualified players to improve his ranking in all four of the key Strokes Gained disciplines in 2021-22. Only two other players who ranked in the top 10 for the season in Strokes Gained: Total also saw improvements in every specific category: Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick. And it was the third consecutive season that Im improved in both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach.
Most significantly, he leapt from 142nd to 12th in shots around the green. Only Billy Horschel (up 133 spots) had a bigger improvement than Im from one season to the next in that statistic.
Bogey avoidance leader
That improved performance around the greens resulted in fewer dropped shots. Im’s jump in scrambling, from 41st to 7th, coincided with him leading the PGA TOUR last season in bogey avoidance at just 12.3 percent. That was an improvement of 37 spots from just two seasons prior, when he ranked 38th in that statistic.
Im has enjoyed a surge in his putting statistics in recent months, as well. Through the end of May, Im was ranked 76th for the 2021-22 season in Strokes Gained: Putting, at 0.14 per round. Since the beginning of June, however, he’s in the top 10 in that category, gaining 0.68 strokes per round on the greens on average (8th best in that span).
Im dialed back his schedule in 2022, playing 26 tournaments compared to 35 the previous season. But even after scaling back, he is the PGA TOUR’s resident ironman over the last four years. Since the 2018-19 season, Im has played 438 official rounds – 54 more than any other player. He has walked approximately 2,200 miles in tournament rounds alone since joining the TOUR full-time in the fall of 2018. If he were to drive from Atlanta – where he now lives full-time – to Las Vegas, home of this week’s Shriners Children’s Open, it would be just 1,970 miles.
He’s carded 1,776 birdies or better in that span, 330 more than anyone else. His 221 rounds in the 60s over the previous four PGA TOUR seasons are 41 more than the next-closest player (Tony Finau, 180).
Many so-called “bombers” qualify as elite drivers, but with the right blend of precision and above-average power a player can gain strokes on the field off the tee, as well. Im is a perfect example of such a player: he ranked 11th last season in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee despite having just slightly above TOUR average length (300.7 yards).
Im is more accurate than many, having hit at least 64% of his fairways in each of his four seasons on TOUR. And when he did miss last season, it wasn’t by much: he ranked 22nd in average distance from the edge of the fairway. This precision, plus averaging just over 300 yards on measured drives, led to Im gaining 39% of his strokes last season off the tee – his highest percentage in any of the primary categories.