Sometimes it feels like the piano player in a dive bar at 2 a.m. is stuck pounding out the same old song over and over, but it’s a melody we can’t stop humming. And this is a refrain well worth singing multiple times because it speaks to the torrent of talent on the LPGA. When In Gee Chun added the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship to the two major titles she has already won the 24-year-old Korean added to the compelling storyline of this season – youth and global golf.
The top-10 after Sunday’s final round at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship hailed from six different nations with an average age of 22.6. Those are remarkable numbers no matter how many times you hear them, or a version of them. Golf’s global tour is awash in young talent from all corners of the world.
Chun, whose other LPGA wins were the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2016 Evian Championship, closed with a 66 in the final round to finish at 16-under-par 272, three strokes better than Charley Hull, 22, from England. Rolex Ranking No. 1 Sung Hyun Park, 24, of Korea and No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn, 22, from Thailand tied for third at 276 with Australian Minjee Lee, 22, and Danielle Kang, 25, from the United States.
Jin Young Ko, 23, the runaway Rolex Rookie of the Year from Korea, followed at 277 with 19-year-old Nasa Hataoka of Japan and Seon Woo Bae, a 24-year-old star on the Korea LPGA, at 278. Nelly Korda, 20, of the United States rounded out the top 10 at 279.
The biggest moves on Sunday, in addition to Chun, were made by Ko, who closed with a 64, Korda with a 65 and Hataoka, who had a final-round 67. But Chun never succumbed to the pressure, making seven birdies and only one bogey on Sunday.
“I'm just really happy, because before this week, I won 13 times in professional tournaments,” Chun said, referring to the 11 events she had previously won on tours other than the LPGA. “I'm glad that I'm finally done with the No. 13. I hated this number. Thanks to HanaBank for this wonderful tournament, and I really want to say thanks to the greens keepers and SKY 72 for their wonderful job this week.”
For Hull, who was alone in second place, it was another step toward garnering her first LPGA victory. “Well, it would always be nice to try and win it but I gave it a good go,” she said. “I played well on the back nine today. Just didn't hole a few putts, but I'm happy with my round.”
In the 27 LPGA events played this year there have been 22 different winners from nine countries, ranging from the youthful Asian Hataoka to Angela Stanford, 40, of the United States, a duo separated by a generation and half a world but brought together by the LPGA. Six Americans have won once each this year while seven Koreans have won nine times with Park claiming three of those titles. Park and Jutanugarn, who has also won three times, and two-time winner Brooke Henderson of Canada, are the only multiple champions so far in 2018.
The LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship kick-started the Asia swing, which starts the sprint to the finish that will take the tour to the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., Nov. 15-18 where the Race to the CME Globe $1 million bonus will be decided. And a handful of players have a shot at the tour’s biggest prizes.
Jutanugarn, Lee, Henderson, and Park and So Yeon Ryu are among those in the thick of the fight for the richest payout in women’s golf at the CME Globe with Jutanugarn, Park, Henderson and Lee in the race to be Rolex Player of the Year while Park, Jutanugarn, So Yeon Ryu and Inbee Park are locked in a scuffle to finish the season atop the Rolex Rankings.
“I really, really wanted to win today,” said Park, whose five LPGA wins include the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open and this year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Her three titles this year have propelled her to the top of the Rolex Rankings.
“The best scenario for me would have been to simply win,” she said. “The World Ranking, it always changes, so that wasn't really a big factor. But once you win an event, that lasts forever, so I think winning was more important for me.”
And that brings us to another very special facet of this amazing pool of talent: They are not only technically skilled and physically talented but their belief systems are off the charts. In their hearts of hearts, they all believe they can win. And that’s going to make this final six weeks of the season extremely fun to watch.