RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – In Gee Chun said she missed the grass in her time away.
It was her way of saying she missed her life on tour while healing from last month’s bizarre mishap that knocked her out of three LPGA events.
“I was so depressed, and I lost my appetite and motivation,” Chun said. “Once I got here, I began to get my motivation back.”
With another 3-under-par 69 Friday at the ANA Inspiration, Chun is poised to make her return to the LPGA memorable. She’s just one shot off the lead in her bid to win her second major championship. She won the U.S. Women’s Open last summer.
“I didn't play a round for the last four weeks,” Chun said. “I'm thankful for the fact that I'm playing again in a major, on a big stage. I'm just thankful to be playing well.”
Chun is making her first start since she was hurt after Ha Na Jang’s father lost control of a 15-pound travel bag that went crashing down an escalator at the Singapore airport early in March.
The bag struck Chun in the tailbone. Chun withdrew from that week’s HSBC Women’s Champions and later the JTBC Founders Cup and last week’s Kia Classic while being treated for injuries to her lumbar muscles, sacroiliac joint and pelvis.
With Jang going on to win in Singapore, Chun was knocked outside the qualifying cutoff to make the Olympic team while Jang moved inside it. It created a media firestorm in South Korea, pitting Chun fans against Jang fans. With a victory this week, Chun will move back in the qualifying mix, though she said she isn’t focused on the Olympics. In fact, after Friday’s round, Chun made a surprising comment. She said she isn’t driven to make it to Rio de Janeiro.
“I do not desire to play at the Olympics, because I know there are many great Korean players who have great experience and deserve to play,” Chun said. “But in case I get the opportunity, I’ll enjoy it.”
At one point Friday, Chun and Jang were tied, alone atop the ANA leaderboard. They even looked like they might be paired together Saturday, but Jang dropped off the pace with a bogey at the last.
Chun said she feels about “90 percent” healthy now with some lingering stiffness in her lower right back, which she receives treatment for after her rounds. Chun didn’t begin hitting full shots until a week ago, and her ball striking wasn’t razor sharp Friday. She missed six greens, but she got up and down for par every time in a bogey-free round.
“Missing four weeks, we were expecting the short game, the chipping and putting would be the hardest part coming back,” said Won Park, Chun’s swing coach. “But when she first tried to come back and hit balls and couldn’t, she spent more time on her short game, and it really worked out well. She had some tough situations today to make par but she did great.”
Park said Chun’s ability to scramble from tough spots is also visible in the larger picture of her life, in coming back from the tough spot the injury created.
“She knows how to convert negative situations into positive ones,” Park said. “ She always tries to draw positives out of certain situations. We have been talking about that. She was thinking the time away was a great opportunity to get back to the basics of the game. She took it as a positive that way.”