Korea's easy victory in the men's golf team competition at the Asian Games in China on Sunday lifted the pressure off the shoulders of PGA Tour star Im Sung-jae in more ways than one.
For one, Im had been beating himself up overnight after finishing his third round Saturday with a double bogey at the 18th hole at the West Lake International Golf Course in Hangzhou. Though South Korea still led the team competition by 14 shots over Thailand, Im thought he'd still cost his team a great deal.
Im needn't have worried, as South Korea, also featuring fellow PGA Tour player Kim Si-woo and amateurs Jang Yu-bin and Cho Woo-young, sailed to a 25-stroke win over Thailand for the team gold medal Sunday. It was the country's first men's golf title in 13 years.
"This has been the longest four days of my career," Im said after also bagging a silver medal in the individual event at 26-under. "Every hole felt so important, and I knew every shot counted for our team event. I wanted to fight for every shot and do the best I could until the finish."
This gold medal has also freed Im from concerns about a potential disruption to his successful PGA Tour career. He will now be exempt from mandatory military service.
"I think I should be able to stay focused even more on the PGA Tour," Im said. I feel like I can have a really long and successful run there. I think this will help me so much mentally."
Granting athletes an exemption from the military is often a touchy and divisive issue among the public. Many PGA Tour pros that came before Im had to do their service. Im was the beneficiary of the recent change that allowed professionals to compete at the Asian Games golf tournament for the first time.
Asked to compare a PGA Tour win and this gold medal, Im said, "Obviously, both are pretty sweet, but this gold medal is extra special."
Im shot four rounds of 66-65-66-65, living up to his billing as one of the PGA Tour's most consistent players in recent years.
Im admitted he didn't think he had a chance to contend for an individual medal, because he sat nine shots off the lead through 36 holes.
"The goal here was just to help the team win, because then all four of us would take home the gold medal," Im said. "On the back nine today, I started thinking about maybe going for the gold for myself, but I didn't make that birdie putt on the 18th hole."
Im and his three teammates shared a three-bedroom unit at the athletes' village. Im said he had a whale of a time with his teammates, especially the two amateurs.
"It's been such a great week," Im said. "There were times we had so much fun, but there were also times when we got down to business and worked. I think we had a really good mix." (Yonhap)