LANCASTER, Pa. – It took a player nicknamed “Dumbo” to unlock the secrets of architect William Flynn’s masterpiece.
South Korea’s In Gee Chun won the U.S. Women’s Open Sunday at Lancaster Country Club in her first appearance in this championship, but she didn’t do so with dumb luck.
Chun didn’t earn her nickname because she’s slow of wit. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Chun is reported to have been a math prodigy as a child.
Playing Flynn’s hidden gem here in southeastern Pennsylvania, with all its doglegs and its pitched greens, was as much a geometry test as it was a test of golf, with all the angles a player had to negotiate. Nobody did it better than Chun, who at 20 immediately vaults to superstar status back in her Korean homeland, where the U.S. Women’s Open is a prize Se Ri Pak made special becoming the first South Korean to win the championship at Blackwolf Run in 1998.
Chun’s victory marks the sixth time a South Korean has won the U.S. Women’s Open over the last eight years. She’s just the fourth player to win the U.S. Women’s Open in her first try.
While American fans may not have been familiar with Chun at week’s start – even Stacy Lewis said she never heard of her – they know her well back in South Korea. Chun’s U.S. Women’s Open victory is her fifth title this year. She has already won three times on the Korean LPGA Tour this season and once on the Japan LPGA Tour. She’s so popular, she has a fan club called the “Flying Dumbos.” They have their own hats and turn out in force to watch her play back in South Korea.
Chun said even some of the American fans at Lancaster Country Club adopted her after they learned her nickname.
“Some were even shouting, `Let’s go Dumbo!’” Chun said through a translator.
About that nickname, Chun actually earned it because of her ears. Her coach, Won Park, gave her the nickname.
“She’s got big ears,” said Dean Herden, her caddie. “She can hear people talking from 50 yards away.”
Chun is yet another dynamic young South Korean taking the women’s game by storm.
“There will be 2,000 people waiting for In Gee when she gets off the plane in South Korea,” Herden said.
Sunday’s finish came down to a battle between a pair of South Koreans with Amy Yang in the hunt to the very end.
Chun won by a single shot over Yang (71), who took a 54-hole lead into the U.S. Women’s Open for the second year in a row without claiming the trophy. Yang was in it until missing a 12-foot putt for par at the last hole that would have forced a playoff.
It wasn’t until the back nine that Chun seized the championship, making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to take the lead. Stacy Lewis (70) was tied for the lead after 14 holes, but ultimately she couldn’t overcome two double bogeys, the first coming after she hit her approach into a creek at the fifth hole, the second after having to hack a pair of shots from the deep rough at the 15th.
“I knew it wasn’t going to come down to the two of us,” Lewis said of how the early going went. “I knew somebody was going to shoot a low number.”
Playing in the pairing directly in front of Yang, Chun was watching on television in scoring when the event ended. She watched Yang miss that last putt.
“It’s a Cinderella story,” said Herden, who was caddying Chun for the first time. “Her parents weren’t financially well off.”
Chun, who grew up in a rural community, said her father, Jong Jin, lost his small business, and her mother, Eun Hee, lost her job running a restaurant when she was growing up. It made finances a challenge.
“My family was in trouble, but I still made it,” Chun said. “They tried everything to not make me feel the financial difficulties.”
Today, Chun’s parents both help manage her career.
Herden said Chun impressed him all week with more than her game.
“She’s a sweet kid,” Herden said.
Chun is the toast of South Korea as their newest U.S. Women’s Open champion.