Up and Down: Im-pressing

Up and Down: Im-pressing

This article is part of our Up and Down series.

While the PGA Tour is on pause, Len Hochberg will periodically examine two golfers – one who was playing well when play was halted (Up), and one who was playing poorly at the same time (Down). 

He will pinpoint the reasons these players are where they are in the FedExCup Standings and offer some numbers to keep in mind when the season resumes. FedExCup points aren't generally used as a guide, but they are a good indicator of where a golfer stands in relation to others on the PGA Tour this season. He will also look at perhaps the purest stat of all – greens in regulation – as well as birdie or better percentage, an integral component of DFS scoring. 

In this edition: Sungjae Im and Lucas Glover.

PLAYING WELL

Sungjae Im

FedExCup Standings rank: 1

We're not comparing Im to Glover by any means. There's no comparison. This is about who was playing well and who wasn't. After the BMW Championship, the second of three playoff events last year, Im and Glover were very close in the world rankings – Im was 54th and Glover 63rd – and both qualified for the Tour Championship. Since then, they've gone in completely opposite directions.

Over that span Im has played 16 events worldwide, 10 of them ending with a top-25 and six of those doubling as top-10s. Of course, he had his breakthrough win at The Honda Classic shortly before the stoppage of play. He also won the Genesis Championship – no, not the one at Riviera, but rather a small event on the Korean Tour. More notably, Im has had three other podium finishes, as runner-up to Sebastian Munoz at the Sanderson Farms event, a tie for third at the ZOZO Championship in Japan and lastly a solo third at Bay Hill right before the break. That's a lot of great results in a short period of time.

Im of course is known as the workhorse of the PGA Tour, teeing it up a whopping 35 times as a rookie last season and 14 already this season. But until the Honda event, the 22-year-old might have been overlooked as the best young player in the game, given the attention on the Class of '19, which features winners Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff as well as Viktor Hovland. Truth is, Im is the best of the bunch. He's now 23rd in the world rankings, and only the stoppage in play has halted his inevitable rise into the top 10. Yes, he's that good.

A Look At The Stats

Im does not excel at any one area; his success comes from being very good at all facets of the game. He's ranked in the top 25 in both strokes gained: off the tee and tee to green. He's 28th in approach and 36th in putting – again, not elite, but very good. The one strokes-gained category where Im needs improvement is around the green, where he ranks 132nd. But even then, his scrambling isn't bad at all, ranked 45th. Really, there's no weakness in his game, and very few golfers can say that. When you don't overly rely on any one area, the chances of a slump are significantly reduced. Not that you need any further proof of Im's value, but look at his outstanding birdie or better number.

Greens in regulation rank: 61
Birdies or better percentage: T13 

SITTING DOWN

Lucas Glover

FedExCup Standings rank: 141

Glover made the Tour Championship last season – that tells you right there how well he was playing. But since he tied for seventh at that BMW Championship right before East Lake, things have gone sideways for Glover. Along the way, he turned 40 in November.

In 13 tournaments since the BMW, Glover has just one top-25 – a tie for ninth at the so-so Shriners tournament. Since the calendar flipped to 2020, he has been pretty bad, missing three cuts in six starts and notching no better finish than a tie for 49th at Torrey Pines. In the previous three seasons, Glover had missed only 5, 3 and 5 cuts. A golfer with a very strong iron game will make a lot of cuts, and that's who Glover is – normally.

This season, however, he's ranked 139th in strokes gained: approach. Only once previously had Glover finished a season worse than 52nd, and that was during 2017-18, in which he went through some off-the-course issues. Glover really battled back to become a steady golfer again. 

So, clearly, something is way off in Glover's iron play, and he has no shot at success without it. He currently stands 89th in the world rankings, now 66 positions behind Im.

A Look At The Stats

We noted Glover's SG: Approach ranking being deep into the 100s. He ranked 43rd last season, and he was inside the top 50 in every strokes-gained category en route to notching a career-best seven top-10s. This season, he's top-50 only in SG: Off-the-Tee. So it's not just his iron play that has gone haywire. His short game, never a strength, has been a disaster, as he sits outside the top 200 in SG: Around-the-Green and outside the top 150 in putting. When you see Glover's greens-in-regulation number in a second it won't look that bad. But you have to remember this was everything to him. He ranked first on Tour in GIR just four seasons ago.

Greens in regulation: 84
Birdie or better percentage: T110

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he contributes to Sports on Earth and was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years.
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