As a youngster, In Gee Chun was a math prodigy
with a genius level IQ. When she was 11, she went with her
dad to a driving range. Her dad challenged her to hit a shot;
she did, badly, and her dad's friend laughed at her. Determined,
she spent the rest of the day practicing, and fell in love
with the sport.
In the end, golf won out over academics. Chun
became a mainstay of the Korean national team as a teenager;
where she was a contemporary of stars like Hyo Joo Kim, Kyu
Jung Baek and Min Sun Kim.
Chun's most notable achievement in pro golf
before 2013 was at the 2011 Hite Cup. So Yeon Ryu had the
lead after two rounds, but a weird rules infraction threw
her off her game, and Chun took advantage. She grabbed the
third round lead and hung onto it most of the fourth day.
But a late triple bogey did her in, allowing another KLPGA
star, Ha Neul Kim, to take the Major title from the still
Her family hit some rough financial times,
and she was forced to turn pro at the age of 17 to help her
family with money. In Gee turned pro in 2012 and played minor
league tours her first year. She joined the KLPGA in 2013
for her rookie year. That year, all the attention was on fellow
rookie Hyo Joo Kim, who many believed was the next superstar
in Korean golf. Kim did get out to a good start, winning her
second event as a KLPGA member and establishing a large lead
in the Rookie of the Year race. But Chun came on strong in
the Spring. Her breakout event was the Doosan Match Play.
She made it all the way to the finals, where she lost to eventual
Player of the Year Ha Na Jang. Chun finally had her moment
the next month at the Korean Women's Open. Paired in the final
round with Kim and another teen star, Kyu Jung Baek, Chun
made birdie on the final four holes to win the event by a
shot. This moved her to within 100 points of Kim for the Rookie
of the Year, and the battle was on!
For the rest of the year, the two duked it
out, each collecting many great achievements. Chun came within
a putt of winning the year's second Major, the KLPGA Championship,
but finished second. She also finished second to Jang again
at the Rush and Cash Classic. Alas, an injury in the year's
penultimate event took her out for the rest of the year, but
she still gave Kim all she could ask for before Kim wrapped
up the top Rookie honors.
In all, it was a fabulous first year for Chun.
She didn't miss a cut, finishing no worse than 33rd all year.
She had nine top tens including the Major win. She finished
third on the money list, second for Rookie of the Year, and
top five in scoring average and Player of the Year.
(And for those who are wondering, her nickname
'Dumbo' comes from her tendency to keep her ears open at all
times, hearing everything around her, like an elephant. It's
not a comment on the size of her ears!).
After coming back from her injury, Chun continued
her brilliance with a fantastic 2014 season. Although she
would not win a Major, she managed three wins during the year,
starting with a victory at the S-OIL Invitational. At the
KDB Daewoo Financial Classic, she had a riveting battle with
Ha Neul Kim, eventually beating her in a playoff when Kim
hit her approach into the water. And Chun ended the season
with a third win at the Chosun-Ilbo Posco Championship, beating
another KLPGA star, Yoon Kyung Heo, in a battle that went
down to the final hole.
Chun finished the KLPGA season 4th on the
money list with roughly 617 million won earned and 8 top tens.
She rose to 19th in the world rankings by year's end.
Though she had a fantastic year on the KLPGA,
her most memorable moment of 2014 came at the KEB Hana Bank
Championship, an LPGA event. After a weak first round, she
climbed the leaderboard the next two days, then seized the
lead on the back nine on Sunday. She had a putt to win but
missed, winding up in a playoff with Kyu Jung Baek and Brittany
Lincicome. Alas, Chun hit an iron in the water during the
playoff, and Baek won. But her tie for second showed she is
ready to contend on the LPGA level.
In Gee Chun had a monster season in 2015,
one of the best a Korean golfer has ever amassed. She was
helped by the exodus of KLPGA stars to the LPGA and JLPGA,
but she not only dominated the KLPGA in 2015, she also won
on the JLPGA and LPGA tours, establishing herself as an international
star and earning full membership on the LPGA for 2016.
Chun started the year playing in a few LPGA
events, where she made all the cuts but never finished inside
the top 20. Upon returning to Korea, it took her just two
events to get her first win, at the rain-shortened Samchully
Together Open in mid-April. But it was her next win that really
set the pace for her year. She was invited to play at the
JLPGA's first Major of the year, the Salonpas Cup. Chun had
never played on the JLPGA before, but she staked herself to
a five shot lead after three rounds and cruised to her first
win on that tour. It was also her first win outside the KLPGA
as a pro, but it wouldn't be her last!
Chun returned to Korea, and just a few weeks
later, stormed to the victory at the Doosan Match Play Championship.
She had to win six matches, and only one was a rout. Two went
to the final hole, two more ended in playoffs, and the other
went to the 17th hole. In the final round against Han Sol
Ji, she had an ace and won the event 1up.
In mid-June, Chun successfully defended her
title at the S-OIL Champions Invitational. It was her third
win of the year, and the first time she ever defended a title.
In Gee continued her jetsetting ways. She
flew to Pennsylvania, where she spent a couple of weeks preparing
for the US Women's Open in Lancaster. Her work paid dividends.
With caddie Dean Herden on her bag (the caddie who had led
Jiyai Shin and So Yeon Ryu to Major wins in the past), Chun
put herself into contention on Sunday. Then, while leader
Amy Yang struggled to remain on top, In Gee made her move.
She birdied the tough 15th hole to move into the lead, made
birdie on the drivable par 4, then birdied the par 3 17th
hole by hitting a gutsy iron directly at the tucked pin. By
the time she reached 18, she had a three shot lead.
But Yang struck back, making eagle on 16 after
driving the green, then birdie on 17. In Gee missed a par
save on 18 and had to wait to see what Yang would do. Yang
missed the fairway on 18, but punched out and got her third
shot within 9 feet of the hole. She had to make the par save
to force a playoff, but she missed, and In Gee Chun, at 20
years of age, became the third youngest woman to ever win
the US Women's Open. The win earned her a tour card for the
LPGA in 2016. It was the third time that she had made her
first win on a tour a Major (she had won the Korean Women's
Open as her first win on the KLPGA in 2013, and the Salonpas
on the JLPGA in May).
In Gee continued to cruise. A few weeks later,
she won the KLPGA's third Major of the season, the Hite Cup,
which also happened to be sponsored by her primary sponsor.
That was her third Major of the season, and thus she became
the first woman golfer to win Majors on three different tours
in the same year.
In October, In Gee returned to Japan to play
at the Japan Women's Open. This time she had a much more difficult
battle for the title. She wound up in a playoff with Erika
Kikuchi and Mi Hyang Lee, but in the end, Chun once again
got the win, her FOURTH Major of the year, and second out
of two tries in Japan.
And she STILL wasn't done. A few weeks later,
she added the KLPGA's fourth Major of the year to her resume,
the KB Star Finale. In Gee thus won eight times in 2015, five
of which were Majors! An absolutely scorching season. And
of course, she finished first on the KLPGA money list with
over 913 million won earned, the second most in history. She
also won the scoring average title by more than half a stroke,
and the Player of the Year.
In Gee capped off the year by playing well
at the Kowa Queens Team tournament, where she went 2 and 1,
and the Hyundai China Open, where she notched a 4th.
In Gee Chun had a superlative rookie season
on the LPGA tour in 2016. She joined the ever-growing ranks
of Korean stars who won that tour's Rookie of the Year award,
but did it in particularly dominating fashion. Her 1,378 points
was close to three times what the second ranked rookie achieved.
She started the year with a bang, carding
a third place, then a second place finish in her first two
starts. However, while arriving in the airport for her third
event, she was injured in a freak accident caused when Ha
Na Jang's father released a hard suitcase. The case tumbled
down an escalator and struck Chun in the lower back. She was
forced to miss several events to recover, but when she returned
at the ANA Inspiration, she was still brilliant. Indeed, her
birdie on the final hole got her briefly into a tie for the
lead, before Lydia Ko tapped in for the birdie and the win.
Chun followed that runner-up finish with another two weeks
later at the Lotte Championship. Four tournaments, four top
Chun cooled off after that, and only had a
few highlights over the next few months. But she still played
well enough to qualify for both the Olympics and the International
Crown. She would finish tied for 13th in Rio and struggled
a tad at the Crown, with South Korea finishing second to the
US in that event.
But In Gee returned to form with an 8th place
at the Women's British Open, then followed that with a jaw-dropping
wire-to-wire win at the Evian Championship, the year's final
Major. Her 21 under par total was the lowest ever achieved
with relation to par in a Major, male or female. She won by
four shots over fellow Korean stars So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun
Park, who finished tied for second. Chun became only the second
woman, after Korean legend Se Ri Pak, to make her first two
LPGA wins Majors.
Chun would not win again in 2016, but she
played consistently well, rapidly closing the gap between
her and Lydia Ko for scoring average. By the time they reached
the year's final event, the CME Group Tour Championship, they
were virtually tied, and the lead changed hands several times
over the four days. With one hole to go, and playing in the
same group, Ko's lead was an insanely small .001 strokes.
Chun birdied the final hole, Ko parred, and by the slimmest
of margins, Chun won the Vare Trophy. She became only the
second women's golfer to win the Rookie of the Year and Vare
Trophy in the same year, after Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez.
In Gee also tried defending her titles at
the Hite Cup and the Japan Women's Open; she finished fourth
in both. She tried to defend at the KB Star Final as well,
but her injured back flared up and she had to drop out.
Chun spent the final month of the year studying
for her final college exams so as to wrap up her college career.
She still found time to donate 100 million won to her alma
mater Korea University, so they could start a charitable program
to assist the elderly and poor. In Gee hopes to participate
in charitable activities in the future with this new program.