Chun overcomes negativity to land first title in two years
When In Gee Chun won the Evian Championship in 2016, which at the time was her second major championship trophy to move her up to No. 3 in the world rankings, few would have predicted the drought she has had to endure over the past two years.
Her 21-under-par score at the Evian Resort Golf Club still stands as the lowest ever score recorded in a women’s major, but, since that remarkable day in September of 2016, Chun hasn’t won anywhere since. Until now, that is.
It is perhaps fitting that Chun brought her winless run to an end on home soil this week at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship at the Sky 72 Golf Club, Incheon.
The trip back to her country of birth has proved to be a sensational homecoming. Two weeks ago, Chun won the UL International Crown alongside her teammates Sung Hyun Park, So Yeon Ryu and In-Kyung Kim. Chun won all four of her matches to finish the week as the only player with a perfect record.
And on Sunday at Sky 72, Chun held off both the World No. 1 and No. 2, S-H Park and Ariya Jutanugarn, as well as England’s Charley Hull, Australia’s Minjee Lee and the USA’s Danielle Kang. The Korean carded seven birdies in a round of 66 to win by an eventual comfortable three strokes.
It has been a tough ride for the 24-year-old. Since winning the Evian in 2016, Chun has finished as runner-up six times in LPGA events, going from a young world-beater to a player that has found it almost impossible to push through and win on Sundays.
The transition has been an incredibly difficult one.
“I was 20, 21 when I first joined the Tour and I won the major, so I suddenly got a lot of attention and love, and it was really surprising and amazing for me at the time,” Chun said.
“Because if you would type my name on the portal, the Google of Korea, you would get all these unrelated articles and search results. But after I won, I would type in my name and I would be able to see in real-time what people were saying. They were supporting me.”
Chun’s downturn in form coincided with hurtful comments from people online. Not only was Chun battling her golf swing, but she was also going up against online trolls.
“After I started not doing so well, I started to check on these comments, of course I tried to tell myself the people were posting these comments because they really wanted me to do well. But there were comments that were there that were quite vicious that were very hard to take as a person and as a woman.
“I really wanted to rise above that and not care about those comments, but I have to say, some of them lingered in my mind and they really pierced my heart.”
Chun’s inability to win tournaments continued into the 2018 season, with the most noteworthy news article of the year surrounding her – prior to the KEB Hana Bank – was not golf related, but a change in hairstyle; even that gathered negativity from some quarters.
“In April, I cut my hair, and, in fact, it was a style I really wanted to do for a long time, and I simply wanted to look better. If it could kind of refresh me, that was an added bonus, but I didn’t think too much of it. But as a result of that haircut, I, I found myself in a more difficult position because there was a lot of rumours.
“I cut my hair without giving it much thought, and all of these rumours that I broke up with my boyfriend and I was never engaged, but somebody would say my engagement got broken off. And then there was a comment that my parents forced me to cut my hair.
“It was really difficult for me to swallow these comments about people who have been there for me and continued to believe in me. I really hated the idea of them being part of that rumour and being talked about. Looking back, none of these things are really huge things, but it was really building up within me, and I think I had a strong reaction to these small comments.
“It came to the point where I really hit bottom and I really didn’t want to get up, and I knew that I was not in an emotionally mentally healthy place.”
But Chun’s recent turnaround in form was perhaps the result of a visit to her ill grandmother in hospital a couple of months ago.
“In August, that’s when my birthday is, I heard that my grandmother was hurt and I wanted to go see her and I wanted her to congratulate me. So I got up early in the morning to go see her, and she was in the ICU and I could only see her for half an hour. But for the 29 minutes, she didn’t recognise me, and the last minute, just before I was ready to leave, she held my hand and she said, you know, you have to be healthy.
“It was that moment that I felt she was speaking to me, that I have to be healthy emotionally and physically, so that’s when I really thought that I really wanted to go back to the basics and really needed to work on making myself more healthy emotionally.”
For Chun – nicknamed ‘Dumbo’ – maybe it has been a case of ‘the very things that hold you down are going to lift you up’.
There are five events left of the 2018 LPGA season, and with Chun’s drought finally seen to, she now has the chance to fly even higher.
— #CMEFinalStretch (@LPGA) October 14, 2018
— #CMEFinalStretch (@LPGA) October 14, 2018
The LPGA’s Asian swing of events continues this week as the tour moves to China for the inaugural Buick LPGA Shanghai.
The Ladies European Tour also heads to Asia for the Hero Indian Women’s Open.