SAN MARTIN, Calif. – In Gee Chun had arrived.
It was the “Hello World,” moment for the 20-year-old from South Korea, who had just carded a third round, 68 at Lancaster Country Club to move within four-strokes of the lead heading into Sunday’s final round at the season’s third major.
Relatively unknown to fans in the states watching the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open conducted by the USGA, Chun was already a two-time major champion on the JLPGA with five victories on the KLPGA last season alone. With that Saturday 68, Chun, a non-member, announced her arrival on the LPGA Tour.
“My coach gave me a lot of compliment to me after the third round, saying that I showed the golf world that I was a very good player,” Chun told LPGA.com via translator. “He also said it was time to entertain myself in the final round. We tweaked our game plan a little bit to enjoy every shot of mine and it worked out perfectly.”
What was the plan? Start acting.
To manage the pressure and nerves that would come on Sunday as Chun chased her first major title on U.S. soil and first win on Tour, she let her imagination take her away from her present reality.
Lancaster Country Club would be the stage and Chun the star.
“I had a lot of self-talk and I tried to entertain myself by imagining I was the main actress in a movie, which my coach asked me to do,” said Chun. “I did it and I really did it, and I can’t forget all the fans’ responses to each and every move of mine.”
Chun would need to make a big move on Sunday if she wanted to have any chance of winning. She trailed leader Amy Yang by four-strokes, which was the same deficit she faced heading into her first win as a professional at the 2013 Korea Women’s Open where she birdied her last four holes to win. As Chun got rolling at Lancaster, making birdie at the seventh and 12th holes, Chun pulled within one of Yang. With a three-putt by Yang at the 13th hole, Chun made her way to the 15th hole in a three-way tie for the lead along with Stacy Lewis. Then, with a 15-footer for birdie at the 15th hole Chun took the outright lead and began feeling like she could replicate the performance she had put on in Korea.
But Chun stuck to the script. So, at the par 4, 16th Chun aimed directly at the back right, greenside bunker and her ball settled exactly where she planned with a slight downhill lie.
“Fortunately, at a very similar sand lie, I practiced more than 10 shots before I teed off,” said Chun, who got up and down from the bunker by draining a 15-footer to take the outright lead. Then, at the par 3, 17th Chun again found herself in a situation for which she had already prepared. The pin was positioned just over the bunker in the back of the green as she and Dr. Park had practiced. She knocked it to within six feet of the hole.
“It was thrilling to see the pin there and I landed the ball exactly where he wanted and set up the great birdie chance,” said Chun. “I got goose bumped all over my body because everything seemed to work according to our scenario.”
Certainly not in the plan was the bogey Chun recorded at the final hole of the day. A wayward tee shot found its way into the heavy rough to the left of the fairway where Chun had to settle for hacking it out with her second shot to advance the ball down the fairway. Faced with a long par save, Chun made bogey and dropped back into a share of the lead with Yang, who was now approaching the 18th hole. Then, she watched and waited as her fellow countrywoman, needing only par to force a playoff, made bogey as well.
The actress had played her role well, carding a final round 66, and received the ultimate award for her performance.
“It was one of the best courses I have ever played. I had to use every club in my bag throughout the 18 holes and I got every aspect of my game tested there. It was a course where you could have no single moment to be bored. There were full of challenges and I loved it.”
The defending champion is eager to face the new challenge she’ll face at CordeValle, where she has spent the last week preparing for the 71st U.S. Women’s Open. Chun got a first look at the course in April during the Tour’s stop at the nearby Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic and said her first impression was the difficulty of the course.
But Chun heads into the week in a much different position than when she made her Championship debut last year. The world No.6 is now a member of the LPGA Tour who has put on quite a show in her rookie season with five top-3 finishes and seems a likely contender to validate her first victory with a second win this week.
“Last year, when I had eight wins I never thought of winning a tournament but just enjoyed every moment of the games. This year, with a lot of high expectations from people around me, I have tended to think of winning during the rounds, because of which I have not been able to enjoy the game as much. I am going to focus on enjoying my own game again!”
The 2015 KLPGA Player of the Year is sure to win again, but that first victory will always hold a special meaning for Chun.
“It is definitely a signature win. I loved all the lights by the light bugs at night around the Lancaster Country Club, and my win there will shine like one of those light bugs forever in my heart.”