Joins Korean legends Se Ri Pak and Inbee Park as only Korean players to win 3 major championships
It was a topsy turvy Sunday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship with numerous lead changes, spectacular shots, and missed opportunities. It was all befitting for a major championship. The leader, In Gee Chun stumbled on the first nine, recording a 40 with 4-bogeys while losing her lead in the process to playing partner Lexi Thompson. For Chun, it was simply a case of nervousness getting to her, forcing her to come to terms with her situation before things deteriorated too far.
“First nine holes I (had) a lot of pressure, so to be honest, I couldn’t enjoy golf. I believed if I stick to my game plan, then I have a chance in the back nine, so I try to hang in there. I am so happy I made it. My body’s still shaking though.”
She recovered from the near disastrous start in time for the back nine, posting a score of 35 (-1 under) to finish the day at -5 under for a 1-stroke victory over both Lexi Thompson and Minjee Lee. Chun managed a par on the 10th hole before she conjured up a birdie on the 502 yard, par-5, 11th hole to get her game back on track and close the gap between herself and new leader Lexi Thompson.
For her part, Thompson assumed the lead on the 4th hole after she opened with a birdie on the first and another on the 3rd hole while Chun bogeyed the 2nd and 4th holes, allowing Lexi to seize a 1-shot lead. Thompson built her lead to 2-strokes by the time they reached the 10th hole. While Chun birdied the 11th, Thompson managed a birdie of her own to maintain the two shot lead. Both players then bogeyed the par-4, 12th hole – Thompson still had her 2-shot advantage as they started the 14th hole.
That was when things started to get interesting as Thompson reached the green in two, but had a lengthy birdie putt back down the sloping green towards the hole. Her lag putt left her with a respectable 3 footer for par, and that was when the demons of past majors seemed to revisit. Her par putt just slid past the hole on the low side, leaving her 18 inches for bogey. The lead was now reduced to 1-shot.
Next up was the par-4, 15th hole which has played as the second hardest hole all week, and that was when Lexi appeared to banish her demon from past majors. She rebounded from the bogey by splitting the fairway with her driver before a beautifully struck second shot soared high into the air before landing on the front third of the green. Three hops later, her ball came to rest just on the fringe at the back of the green leaving her with a 15 foot putt for birdie. With poise, she pulled her putter back, striking the ball smoothly, watching the ball roll towards the hole with anticipation. With the correct speed, the ball caught the left side of the cup, dropping in for a birdie and a restored 2-stroke lead over Chun with three holes remaining.
Lexi seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, striding to the hole with renewed confidence to pick her ball up. It truly appeared that she was in the process of eliminating any bad memories from last season’s U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club where she was the leader going into the final round before a series of misjudged shots left her in third place.
On the par—5, 16th hole Lexi again drove the ball beautifully, splitting the fairway while leaving her in position to go for the green in two. Meanwhile, In Gee Chun had been driving the ball wonderfully all week too – just not with the same distance as players like Thompson. Her tee shot was well struck, hitting a high fade that landed on the right hand side of the fairway, but short of the fairway bunker. Playing first, Chun pulled a fairway wood from her bag and played another well struck shot that landed on the right half of the fairway before bounding to the left side. She was playing the par-5 in the traditional manner.
Given her prodigious length, it was no surprise that Thompson also pulled a fairway wood with the intention of going for the green in two, with the possibility of an eagle. Again, her swing was solid as the ball sailed towards the green, but came up just short of the greenside bunker on the front right. She would have a short wedge shot over the left edge of the bunker to the flag. Her chip shot for eagle was struck a little too strongly and with little spin as her ball landed on the green, rolling past the pin before settling just off the green. She would have two shots from there too save her par.
Meanwhile, In Gee Chun, having elected to play the par-5 in the traditional fashion, was left with a full wedge shot to the pin. It may have been the shot of the tournament for Chun. Her ball was flighted beautifully with the trajectory of a wedge and with spin to keep the ball from running away once it landed. Her ball was on a perfect line with the flag, landing mere inches in front of the hole before the spin backed it up, leaving her with a 5-foot putt for birdie. At the side of the green, Lexi pulled her putter needing to get her ball up the slope and onto the green. And that is what she did, though she had a little too much pace on the ball to keep it close to the hole.
After a careful assessment, In Gee Chun calmly stroked her uphill putt into the cup for a birdie, reducing the gap between her and Lexi to a single shot. The onus was now on Thompson to see if she would be able to sink her 15-foot putt for par. A 15 foot putt was always going to be a tough putt to sink and that would prove to be the case for Lexi as her ball rolled past the hole on the low side. She would sink the 4-foot putt for bogey.
The 16th hole turned out to be a 2-shot hole as both In Gee Chun and Lexi Thompson stood atop the leaderboard at -5 under. Despite driving the ball extremely well and playing superb iron shots to the green, Lexi Thompson was again undone by her putting on the par-4, 17th hole. On in two shots with a very makeable birdie putt, Thompson slid her ball past the hole, leaving her a short 3-foot comeback putt for par.
Perhaps it was the bad thoughts from Olympic Club the previous year, no one knows for certain, but on a putt that she needed to sink to maintain her share of the lead, Thompson meekly stroked the ball, missing short and right of the hole. It never had a chance of going in. Both players would go on to make par on the 18th hole with In Gee Chun becoming only the third player from South Korea to win three major championships, joining Se Ri Pak and Inbee Park.
For In Gee Chun, it was a case of trying to stay patient and remind herself that there was lots of golf to be played today. When it came to the 18th hole today and needing to make her par putt for the win, Chun took a moment to give herself a pep talk in preparation for the putt, reminding herself that she had been playing under pressure all day and now had the opportunity to make her own fate.
“Lexi’s play was great. She gave me a lot of pressure. I play with all the big pressure until 18, so when I (had) the last putt on the 18th, I tried to give myself a talk. ‘In Gee, you made a lot of distance putts, and then you controlled the pressure already, so you can make it.’ That’s what I did before I hit the putt.”
Next up for the three-time major champion is a short visit to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where In Gee will met up with her adopted family that she got to know from her win at the 2015 U.S. Women's Open.