PORTSTEWART, Northern Ireland – UCLA graduate Daniel Im isn’t surprised to be leading the $7 million Dubai Duty Free Irish Open over a star-studded field, even if he’s ranked 542nd in the world.
Im’s paid his professional dues and is ready to cash in.
The 32-year-old is in position to take the $1,166,660 first-place prize with 36 holes to play. Im added a 5-under 67 to go with his opening 64 and shares the 36-hole lead with France’s Benjamin Hebert, who also returned a 67. John Rahm is in solo third place after recording a 67 of his own.
Im only needed 22 putts in his second round to outplay the World No. 11 Rahm, World No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama (T-8) and World No. 4 Rory McIlroy, the tournament host who missed the cut.
“I just kind of plugged along and just kind of kept putting and playing and hitting balls and putting and ended up with 22 putts,” Im said. “I’ve actually been struggling with my putting the last few weeks. And then I just kind of kept working on it, and tried to read the greens a little bit better. Tried to get the pace right.”
Im was born in New Jersey but calls La Mirada, Calif., home. He’s followed compatriots Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka to Europe. Unlike his peers, he has yet to win on the European circuit.
Im has taken a more circuitous route to the European Tour than Uihlein and Koepka. He started his professional career on the Canadian Tour after turning professional in 2008. He won twice that season and earned the rookie of the year award. He then plied his trade on the Asian Tour before a few years on the European Challenge Tour. He feels that world wide experience has helped him as a player.
“You get to learn to play a different type of golf, with all different weather and different conditions,” he admitted. “I’ve learned to play different types of shots, getting to up and down from different places, different types of grass. I feel as if day by day I’m getting better.”
Im finally gained a foothold on the European Tour by winning the 2015 European Tour Qualifying School. He narrowly hung onto this playing rights for this year by finishing 109th on the 2016 money list, with the top 111 keeping their cards. Only the top 100 retain cards for 2018 after this season, and Im is currently 114th on the money list.
He’s had an easier time settling into European life than some of his countrymen.
“My background is Korean and I lived in Korea for about 10 years,” Im said. “I’ve always moved around. Born in Jersey, lived in Korea, moved to California and now I’m here. I’ve played a little bit of Canadian and Asian Tour and now I’m playing out here so I’ve been all over the place.”
He hasn’t been all over the place over the first 36 holes, that’s for sure.