EVIAN-LES-BAINES, France – On a wet and dreary day at the Evian Championship, In Gee Chun radiated brilliance. The elegant South Korean star with the warm smile set a new scoring mark for major championships – men and women – with her 21-under performance.
“I feel like I’m dreaming,” said Chun, who shed tears during the trophy presentation.
Jason Day (2015 PGA) and Henrik Stenson (2016 British Open) set the record in the men’s game at 20 under and Dottie Pepper (1999 ANA), Karen Stupples (2004 Women’s British), Cristie Kerr (2010 LPGA Championship), Yani Tseng (2011 LPGA Championship) and Inbee Park (2015 KPMG Women’s PGA) held the previous LPGA record at 19 under.
Chun finished four shots clear of fellow Koreans So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park after carding rounds of 63-66-65-69. Chun’s four-day total of 263 also broke the LPGA major championship 72-hole scoring record previously set by Betsy King (267, 1992 LPGA Championship).
“Don’t you think those people that finished in 17th place at 3-under par are thinking, ‘What course did she play?,’ ” marveled Golf Channel’s Judy Rankin.
Considerable credit goes to caddie David Jones for talking Chun out of hitting a fairway metal from the rough on the 72nd hole. Jones reminded his boss of the wind and the cold and what the rough had been like all day.
Everybody he’d seen go for the green from the left rough on the 18th wound up in the water, and Jones was convinced Chun would do the same.
Chun, 22, relented and laid up with gap wedge. She then hit it to 10 feet from 95 yards and waited for her chance at history.
When the par putt dropped in front of a hearty crowd, Chun lifted her arms toward the sky in jubilation and then covered her mouth in a moment of shock and glee. Then two of the best players in the world – Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson – led a group of LPGA players onto the green to douse the winner in Evian water and champagne.
“I think she’s an amazing ambassador for the women’s game,” gushed Ko, who noted that Chun’s kindness is the reason so many came out to celebrate the rookie.
In the last 20 years, 12 Koreans have won a total of 24 LPGA majors, tying the Americans. Five of the top six players on the leaderboard at Evian were South Koreans. A South Korean has won at least one major on the LPGA since 2011, and Chun’s efforts in France kept that string alive.
Chun, with seven top-three finishes on the season, is projected to move to No. 3 in the world. The 2015 U.S. Women’s Open winner joins South Korea pioneer Se Ri Pak as the only two LPGA players to record their first two LPGA wins at major championships.
Earlier in the year, Chun was involved in an unusual accident involving a runaway suitcase that belonged to Ha Na Jang’s father on an escalator at the Singapore airport. The resulting injury forced her to sit out of several events after recording two top-three finishes in her first two starts of 2016.
She returned to action after more than a month-long break at the ANA Inspiration, where she took a share of second place. Chun, who spoke in English during most of the interview, turned to an interpreter to comment on coming back from the injury to claim her second major title.
“After the injury … I just fell into the negative loophole and I couldn’t get out,” said Chun, “and my passion was very high, but my body was not working that way. Due to all the fan support and fans’ also criticism about that issue, too much criticism of it, I just couldn’t even think about my injury at all because it’s just going to flare up more and more. So I just had to keep it quiet inside, but I had to go through all those hard times, not being able to mention anything about my injury and my hurt and pain.”
The pressure from Korean media began to mount as Chun continued to come up short. When the weather grew cold throughout the season, as it did at Evian, Chun felt the back pain return. She put on hot patches to keep her body warm.
Chun said her passion for golf returned at the Olympic Games, when the game became fun.
“You are destined to win again,” longtime coach Won Park told her.
After Chun hit her third shot onto the 18th green Sunday, the nerves began to churn as she approached the green. Jones encouraged her to enjoy the walk and said he’d buy dinner if she made par.
“He can pick any expensive one,” Chun said, grinning.