LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA | She can’t fake her feelings. When In Gee Chun speaks, even in the halting manner of a brilliant thinker who wants to use the right words but for whom the connective tissue of English remains foreign and elusive, you feel what she feels. The earnest eyes, the way she leans in to make a point, the mixture of practical logic and ethereal philosophy that she delivers with every answer, every conversation: those who spend time with Chun know there is both a deep intellect and sensitive soul inside this 25-year-old two-time major champion.
Those who know her have also seen the struggles, the pained resignation after a lackluster week, the 1,000-yard stare, the downcast eyes, quiet and still. Language is not a barrier to the message in those expressions.
“I was disappointed a lot because I worked very hard and didn’t see the results I wanted,” Chun said on Wednesday before the opening round of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. “But the harder I worked, the more pressure I seemed to put on myself. When I didn’t see a straight-line correlation between the work I was putting in and the scores I was shooting, I found I was feeling depressed. I had lost a lot of my passion for the game.”
The first step is always recognizing the problem. Many observers sensed the darkness Chun admitted to while sitting under a shade tree outside the clubhouse at the Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club.
The next step is changing the habits and behavior that led to that place. She seems to be on the right path.
“These feelings began two years ago,” Chun said. “I tried taking time off, getting away to recharge, but nothing seemed to work. I realized that I had to change my mind, my mental approach and the way I not only looked at golf but at myself.
“It wasn’t easy. In fact, I’m still in the process. But I’m trying to remain positive and think only of positive things no matter what happens on the golf course or where I am on the leaderboard. I have to accept that there are things I cannot control. I can’t control what anyone else does, what anyone else shoots. I can’t control some of the things that happen after I hit a shot. All I can control are my feelings and my actions.
“Every person has a different life experience,” she said. “I have to live in the present. But I also realize that every life has its ups and downs. When I’m on the downside, I can see only that very narrow part.”
She put her hands to the side of her head to simulate blinders. “Now,” she said, “I try to take one step back and see the big picture, see that this is just one down moment in the entirety of my life.”
Once she took a step back, she realized that no life follows a straight-line trajectory. That is one of the joys of living it.
“When I’m on a downslope, someone else is probably going to be on an upslope,” she said. “I have to focus on myself and not on how I compare to others because at some point we’re probably going to meet in the middle.”
Her openness is incredibly refreshing, especially when she recounts how the encouragement of others often sent her even further into the abyss.
“It was hard because other people care about me and encourage me, but when they empathized with me during my difficult times, it only reinforced that I was in a downward spiral,” she said. “They all said, ‘In Gee, everyone has down times, everyone struggles.’ But I thought, ‘Why do they not understand me? My life is different.’ So I would resist them and push back against that advice.”
Chun’s game was never horrible. She had two top-10s last season and finished in the top 15 four times. She’s still ranked in the top 50 in the world and is in the Diamond Resorts field because she won the 2018 HanaBank Championship in her home country of South Korea.
She is also passionate about the In Gee Chun Educational Foundation, which supports children in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Chun won the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open.
“There are good players, rising players, and they are getting a lot of attention now,” Chun said. “I’m happy for them but I know that I am going to be there again, too. But it takes time. It’s part of the process I’m going through.
“Honestly, there are good parts to not having such an intense spotlight. But as a golfer, it is nice to be in the spotlight on the course. When I hit good shots and I hear the reaction of my fans who support me, or when I bring in new fans, I do miss that part.
“But during the tough times I’ve experienced, I’ve learned a lot. If I had only experienced the positive and rising parts of my life, I would not be the person I am now.”
And who is she now? She’s the same person she’s always been, the person who wept shamelessly after winning in Incheon in 2018; the person who choked up when speaking of her family after her Open victory and who smiled and turned her face to the sky after a record-setting win at the 2016 Evian Championship. She is witty and kind, disciplined and determined, generous and substantive. Thankfully, she is beginning to realize it.
“Although golf is my job and I want to be good at it, it’s not all of me,” she said. “I want to be a good player but more importantly, I want to be a good person.”
Then she leaned in and said it again. “I want to be a good person.”