BETHESDA, MARYLAND | They don’t come more honest, which is refreshing in any profession these days but extraordinary in sports. Ask athletes to share their innermost feelings about anything and you’re likely to get looks ranging from bewilderment to contempt. At a time when the world seems to live on Me Island and every sentence starts with “I,” athletes are notorious for speaking endlessly about themselves without saying anything at all.
Then there is our latest major champion, In Gee Chun, who captured the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship by a shot over her next-door neighbors in Irving, Texas, Minjee Lee, and Lexi Thompson. Unlike most 27-year-olds, Chun tells you everything. She is an open book – honest, earnest, intellectual, and the kind of gentle soul that makes you feel honored to know her.
Throughout the week, she was a breath of fresh air. Ask her about the course record 64 she shot on Thursday. “I’m so happy,” she said. Bring up the 75 she shot on Saturday, whittling a 7-shot lead down to three, and she said, “I have to put that aside and remember that I still have a lead and be happy with that.” Ask her about cooking for her neighbors, Minjee and Sei Young Kim, and she chuckles before saying, “I’m working on seasoning steak now.”
So, when she was asked on Sunday how it felt to blow a three-shot lead in the first four holes of the final round and make the turn having lost the lead for the first time since 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Chun pulled no punches.
“First nine holes I got a lot of pressure, so to be honest, I couldn't enjoy playing golf,” she said with the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship trophy by her side. “But I believed that if I stuck to my game plan and then I believed that I had a chance on the back nine. So, I tried to hang in there. I'm so happy I made it. My body still shaking, though.”
So was everyone else’s. Chun opened up such a commanding lead in the first 45 holes that it looked like this one would be a runaway. At one point on Saturday, she was 11-under par, a number no one saw coming at Congressional Country Club when the week began. But major venues have a way of biting back. Chun made a couple of sloppy swings late on Saturday and finished the day at 7-under par, three clear of Thompson and Hye-Jin Choi.
A 40 on the front nine on Sunday and it looked like this one had gotten away from her.
“So I want to tell truth,” Chun said afterward. “I couldn't control all the pressure. This is why I had four bogeys (on the front). At the same time, you know, this course is never easy. Congressional Country Club is a hard golf course, and we had tough pin positions. Sometimes my golf is not perfect. Today, it just happened to be (not perfect) on the front nine.”
Then she laughed and said, “Golf is never easy. Still, I can't believe I won. That's why I feel really emotionally now.”
In the mark of a champion, Chun battled back. She played the difficult last four holes 1-under par, which was enough for the win.
“At the time, I thought ‘In Gee if you never give up, then you can get something. Just don't crack under pressure. Just keep doing what you’re doing. See the big picture. Keep going to catch your goal.’”
It has been a long road. Chun last won in 2018 at the HanaBank Championship in her home country of South Korea. Before that, she won majors in 2015 and 2016.
“When I got in a slump, some people said, ‘In Gee, you should retire because your game is not good right now.’ But no matter what they said, I believed that I could win again. I'm so proud now.”
She has always been open, even about some of the struggles she had earlier in her career with depression. When asked what this win meant, not just for her career but for her personal journey back, she became quite emotional.
“I'm happy because my sponsors, they always believed in me,” she said. “I know it's never easy, so I really appreciate all my sponsors. Then my family and my coach, my managers, my friends, they never gave up on me no matter how I did, so I really wanted to win the last couple of years.
“I really appreciate everyone. When I got in a slump, I really wanted to quit golf, but not because of them. I stuck with it. I kept playing. That's how I won this week. That’s why I’m so thankful.”
Thankful and honest. How refreshing.