Is In Gee Chun’s Win the Start of Something Big?
Watching the conclusion of the United States Women’s Open Championship and its immediate aftermath, there was the sense that a new era in the sport.
For In Gee Chun’s win, as unexpected as it was, was not a fluke. Her triumph ay Lancaster Country Club was her fifth of 2015, to go with three victories in her native Korea and one in Japan. At the ripe old age of 20 she is the KLPGA’s leading money winner and its most popular performer in a nation where female golfers are revered.
At the start of the final round, Chun was barely an afterthought. Amy Yang began her Sunday with a three-shot advantage and Stacy Lewis was her closest pursuer while Chin sat in third place, four shots from the lead. But by the time the last two groups reached the closing holes, Yang, Lewis, and Chun were all tied for the lead.
Chun moved to the head of the back by reeling off three consecutive birdies at 15, 16, and 17. All the while she displayed no more anxiety than she would have during a casual round with friends.
“Everything I faced and I did here was completely new,” she said through a translator, “including caddie. So all I did was enjoy the new stuff, everything new. So I just tried to enjoy the new stuff and I enjoyed it and had a lot of fun. Even though I’m Korean, here American fans supported me a lot and they gave a lot of claps to good play. That has put me in the great rhythm of play, and I enjoyed that tournament rhythm.”
Gun gave back a shot when she found the rough off the 18th tee, was forced to lay up with her second shot, and wound up taking a bogey. But she was still tied for the lead with Yang; Lewis’s double bogey at 15 took her out of the hunt.
Yang came to the 72md hole needing a par to force a three-hole playoff, but, like Chun before her, (and numerous others among the 63 players who completed 72 holes) was forced to lay up out of the left rough. She hit her third shot to 12 feet but the par putt she needed to make slid by the left edge.
The occasion brought to mind Se Ri Pak’s emergence in 1998 when she won two majors, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open, in a span of seven weeks. Pak’s emergence changed women’s golf forever and Pak herself became a revered figure to a generation of aspiring female golfers in her homeland
Chun, who will turn 21 in August, is part of the next generation; she draws her inspiration from Birdie Kim, who won the Women’s Open in 2005. Chun watched Kim’s win on television and found herself inspired.
“That’s when I saw the U.S. Open for the first time on TV.”
It’s far too soon to know whether Chun will enjoy the same sort of long-term success that Pak and other Korean players have. But her success in Lancaster is a reminder of golf’s universal appeal, and that today’s champions must always keep an eye out for new challengers.