In Gee Chun enjoys triumph over emotional struggles with win at Hana Bank

Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

In Gee Chun enjoys triumph over emotional struggles with win at Hana Bank

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In Gee Chun enjoys triumph over emotional struggles with win at Hana Bank

At the winners’ press conference at the UL International Crown, an undefeated In Gee Chun was asked if South Korea’s team success could serve as a turnaround for her season. Chun gave a hopeful response, but the skeptic inside her wasn’t convinced. Could all the negativity she had built up inside really turn around in an instant? Already she could feel the expectations rising.

Seven days later, an emotional Chun sat on her own in another winner’s press conference. This time, she had just won LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship at the Sky 72 Golf Club, Ocean Course in Incheon, South Korea, by three shots.

She had worked hard throughout the week to channel the “genuine belief” others had in her to get back into the winner’s circle for the first time since 2016. It was a fight to the finish.

“When my win was finalized, all the difficult struggles that I have gone through the past years kind of went before me,” Chun said Sunday, “and all the faces of the people who kept on believing in me went by, and so I teared up constantly.”

That she won on home soil in front supporters from her “Flying Dumbo” fan club after such a long and difficult drought must have felt as sweet as the two majors that preceded her KEB Hana Bank title. It seemed a fitting end to the LPGA’s run at the Sky 72 Ocean Course, as Hana Bank moves its focus to the Korean LPGA in 2019 and the LPGA moves to Busan with BMW as the new title sponsor.

Chun closed with a 6-under 66 to finish three strokes ahead of Charley Hull at 16-under 272. No.1 Sung Hyun Park and No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn finished in a share of third with Minjee Lee and Danielle Kang. Park and Jutanugarn went head-to-head in singles play at last week’s Crown, with the Thai star coming out on top.

Park, a two-time runner-up at Hana Bank, wanted this one badly.

“I was hitting really well today actually but despite that, I lost a lot of birdie opportunities,” she said. “I think that’s what’s really biting at me now.”

Six of the players in the top 10 at Hana Bank participated in last week’s International Crown. Hull, who now has a third and second on the season, hopes there’s a win around the corner at one of her last three starts for 2018. The 22-year-old Englishwoman won the 2016 CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla.

Chun burst onto the worldwide stage in 2015 by winning the U.S. Women’s Open in Lancaster, Pa. She won the biggest title in women’s golf in her first attempt, earning LPGA status for the 2016 season. She followed that with a second major title at Evian in a rookie season that saw her nab the Vare Trophy for the tour’s lowest scoring average.

A new kind of fame had swept over Chun, and it was welcomed at first. But when she stopped winning, the fun stopped too. Chun described some of the comments she read online as “vicious.”

“I really wanted to rise above that and not care about those comments,” she said, “but I have to say, some of them lingered in my mind and they really pierced my heart.”

That the internet trolls got to her only added to Chun’s frustrations. It only grew worse when she cut her hair short in the spring. Social media went wild.

“It came to the point where I really hit bottom and I really didn’t want to get up,” she said, “and I knew that I was not in an emotionally mentally healthy place.”

In August, Chun rushed to her grandmother’s side after she was hospitalized. Growing up, Chun’s family struggled financially and both of her parents worked. It was grandma who looked after her most days.

The trip to the ICU was especially heartbreaking in that for most of the 30-minute visit Chun’s grandmother didn’t recognize her. It wasn’t until the final seconds that she grabbed Chun’s hand and said, “You have to be healthy.”

It was a wake-up call for the South Korean star, who cut herself off from reading online comments and refocused her energy on those who showed genuine care.

“I have always been grateful for the love and support,” said Chun, “but during the difficult period, I couldn’t really allow myself to see and feel the kind of support and love that the fans give me. But I think that this week I was able to really absorb the love and the support that the people give me.” Gwk

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