[PHOTOS: Getty Images]

There is one particular statistic about the FedEx Cup that serves as a reminder why it is billed as the ultimate prize on the PGA Tour. Since its inauguration in 2007, only 13 golfers have managed to get their hands on the glittering, season-long trophy – out of a possible 2,709 across the past 16 seasons. 

The odds of winning are slim, 0.48 percent to be exact, but the reward is gargantuan as the FedEx Cup champion earns a cool $US18 million. The road to golf’s glory, though, demands utmost consistency across the season, and peaking during the playoffs which begin with the FedEx St Jude Championship this week, the first of three playoffs events limited to the top 70 players.

Five Asian stars – Korean quartet Tom Kim (ranked 14th), Si Woo Kim (18th), Sungjae Im (32nd), Byeong Hun An (37th) and Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama (57th) – will tee up at TPC Southwind in Memphis knowing fully well no Asian golfer has yet to win the FedEx Cup.

It seems like it is Mission: Impossible for any of them to upset the odds and upstage the likes of current FedEx Cup No.1 Jon Rahm, world No.1 Scottie Scheffler or Rory McIlroy, who enters the playoffs ranked third and seeking an unprecedented fourth crown as the season-long master.

But truly, impossible is what the Asian players are fighting for over these next three weeks. 

In the history of the game, Asian men golfers were never regarded as favourites to claim any of golf’s four majors. Then, Korea’s Y.E. Yang delivered the impossible when he came from behind to upset Tiger Woods during his prime at the 2009 PGA Championship. Woods had never lost a major in his previous 14 major victories while holding the 54-hole lead. Later, in 2021, Matsuyama rewrote more golf history by becoming the first Asian to claim the green jacket at the Masters Tournament.

An, 31 [above], remembers watching Yang’s historic triumph over Woods, which served as an inspiration as he went on to become the youngest ever to win the US Amateur just two weeks after Asia’s major milestone. “Obviously the first Asian, first Korean to win a major championship… it was very impressive,” An said.

“We all got the confidence seeing an Asian do it and a few weeks later – I won the US Amateur. I bet it gave a lot of us the confidence that we can do it too. There is also K.J. [Choi] before us. They showed us that it can be done,” added An, who is making a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2020.

Matsuyama is fighting to make the top 50 and qualify for next week’s BMW Championship in his hopes of extending an impressive streak of having qualified for nine consecutive Tour Championship, the Playoffs Finale, which is a record among active players. In 2017, he entered the playoffs ranked No.1 on the back of three wins and three runner-up finishes during the regular season, but his game cooled off with a T-23 his best finish in the playoffs as he settled for eighth position in the final FedEx Cup standings. Spaniard Rahm is in pole position heading into this week after four victories and six top-10s.

Matsuyama is aware of Asia’s drought on the PGA Tour’s biggest stage.

“Competing here, there are many players from different countries, and to not yet have a player from Asia win is something that motivates me. I’d be very happy if more people believed that a player from Asia could win it,” said Matsuyama, who jointly holds the record of most PGA Tour victories by an Asian golfer with eight titles.

Im [above] has come the closest at winning the tour’s biggest prize. Last season, he battled courageously against McIlroy and Scheffler before finishing tied for second. “I think that was great,” said Im, who is a two-time tour winner.

His current form, though, isn’t exactly on fire, with three top-25s in his past five starts, but he knows he can light it up in the playoffs. “It is coming back,” said the 25-year-old, who is ranked 10th among the best scoring average in playoffs history and also 10th in one-putt percentage.

Fresh from a runner-up finish last week and a top-3 at the Genesis Scottish Open, the in-form An believes the goal is to first get into the Tour Championship, limited to the top 30, which then gives them a shot at the FedEx Cup. “I think the confidence is there. As far as winning the FedEx Cup, I think the primary goal is to get to the Tour Championship first.”

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