Masters leader Sungjae Im cheered on by father’s near-ace in par-3

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The par-3 contest at the Masters is said to bring nothing but bad luck for this simple reason: No one who won it won the green jacket four days later.

So it came as a surprise when first-round leader Sungjae Im revealed that a source of inspiration for his lights-out, 5-under 67 was “some good vibes from my dad,” which he got from a shot his dad executed along the way had the rain shortened par 3.

“He took a great shot in 9th place,” Im said through an interpreter, “and that was an exciting day for me.”

Ji Taek Im, the player’s old man, was a big hit on the last hole of the competition. Wearing his white caddy overalls, he took a amateurish hack off his tee shot and landed it 4ft to the left of the flag, eliciting howls of laughter from his son and other pros and a whole round of hearty high-fives.

“It’s definitely a memorable day,” said Sungjae Im. “I wasn’t expecting much. … I remember the group behind us, we were on the tee – Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns and Billy Horschel. They were just having fun and making fun of my dad and it got me too so I laughed.

Sunjae Im
Sunjae Im

“But when he got the shot, it was the most beautiful shot I’ve ever seen. It was like a professional shot. It was definitely a fun and memorable day.”

Perhaps not quite as fun and memorable as Thursday, when Im put himself in a position to do what he almost did in 2020 when he finished second behind Dustin Johnson in his Augusta National debut at the pandemic-delayed November Masters occupied place. It was the South Korean’s introduction to an American golfing audience who, 17 months later, spent the day transfixed by Tiger Wood’s remarkable comeback as Im slipped out the back door and into the lead, outplaying Tiger by four shots.

“I feel like I can play well here every time,” Im said, referencing his breakthrough in 2020. “I believe [the course] fits my game. It requires overall good shots from the tee to the green, and it’s important to place shots in spots where I have a chance to attack the green. … In total [2020] is a great memory that I will carry with me. Finishing second here in the Masters is an achievement I’m really proud of. But we’ve only been there for one day. … I just want to keep that momentum going and try to finish well this week.”

Im, 24, opened his round with three consecutive birdies, but the hole that propelled him to the top of the leaderboard was the par-5 13th, where he hit a hybrid into the green before sinking an eagle putt. He now has a chance to become the second Asian player to win the Masters after last year’s champion, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.

“I don’t want to think about beating anything right now,” Im said. “I have a lot of days to play and there are a lot of talented players out here at the Masters. But when we talk about Hideki’s win last year, I have the utmost respect for him. I’ve seen him play since I was a kid and hopefully good things will happen.”

Hopefully, for my sake, he’ll hit a back nine on Sunday as nice as the one his father hit in the par 3 on Wednesday. Masters leader Sungjae Im cheered on by father’s near-ace in par-3


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