Chun smiles her way to historic second major title

By Randall MellSeptember 18, 2016, 6:24 pm

In Gee Chun sealed the deal Sunday winning the Evian Championship.

It’s officially the “Year of the Smile” in women’s golf.

If Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko leads the LPGA in smiles, Chun is a close second with Ariya Jutanugarn not far behind.

In fact, Jutanugarn may have become the first player to turn a smile into a practical device this year. She integrated a smile into her pre-shot routine back in April. She didn’t begin her tour best run of five victories this season until she began using a smile as a trigger to remind her to slow down and be confident before stepping over a shot.

Chun had more to smile about winning the Evian Championship Sunday than any player who ever teed it up in a major. She went lower over 72 holes in a major than any man or woman in history. With a dramatic par save at the last, Chun shot 69, posting a four-day total of 21 under, the lowest total in relation to par in major championship golf.


Evian Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“I can’t believe I won the Evian Championship at 21 under,” Chun said. “I’m not dreaming, right?”

Chun finished a shot better than the 20-under total Henrik Stenson posted winning The Open Championship at Royal Troon this summer and a shot better than Jason Day posted winning the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits last year.

Chun’s total was two better than the women’s record shared by Dottie Pepper (1999 Kraft Nabisco), Karen Stupples (2004 Women’s British Open), Cristie Kerr (2010 LPGA Championship), Yani Tseng (2011 LPGA Championship) and Inbee Park (2015 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship).

Chun’s smile is apparently as integral to her game as it is to Jutanugarn’s.

“It’s the most important part of In Gee’s game,” Dr. Won Park, Chun’s coach, told GolfChannel.com.

It’s a strong statement, given Park has helped Chun build one of the most elegant swings in the women’s game.

Park says Chun’s pre-shot routine is built on the idea of “flow,” of creating positive flow through her game. Her smile after shots, after plucking her ball from the cup and while acknowledging fans, is an integral part of that flow.

“She has learned to enjoy the game whether she is playing well or playing badly,” Park said. “I try to teach that to every player of mine, but they don’t all pick it up. In Gee does.”

There’s another benefit to Chun’s smile. It has helped her connect to fans in meaningful ways.

She is one of the most popular players in South Korea. She goes by the nickname “Dumbo,” a moniker she says she gained because of her natural curiosity, “like the baby elephant.” Her fan club is called “The Flying Dumbos,” which is spreading to the United States.

Chun is working hard to connect to American fans.

Park told GolfChannel.com that Chun began carrying a pair of small books in her back pockets during rounds after she came to the United States to play full time this year. She carried a yardage book in one pocket and an English-Korean translation book in the other pocket.

“So she could practice her English between shots,” Park said.

Chun has started combining the books, moving her English notes into the back of her yardage book. Park said you can sometimes see Chun appear to be talking to herself when she’s walking between shots.

“She’s practicing her English,” Park said.

After Chun won the U.S. Women’s Open last year, Park was her translator when she met media in her news conference. When Chun arrived for the ANA Inspiration for her first major as an LPGA member this year, Park encouraged her to do as many interviews as she could in English. He helped her here and there.

After winning Sunday at Evian, Chun did her NBC TV interview herself, completely in English.

“Most people say golf is an individual sport, but I believe it is a team sport,” Chun told NBC and Golf Channel’s Tom Abbott while cradling her new trophy. “My manager, my caddie, my coach, my family ... I have a team, and we prepare for this game and play this game together. I love my team.”

Chun’s smile is proving a universal language.

“I think she's an amazing ambassador for the women's game,” said Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko, who was there on the 18th green to help douse Chun in a champagne-soaked victory celebration. “You can see that from her personality. She's always smiling, and she's there for other people. I think that's why everybody really likes her. You can see that by the many of us that came out to support her and celebrate and spray champagne and water on her.”

With Sunday’s victory, Chun joins South Korean legend Se Ri Pak as the only players to win major championships as their first two LPGA victories.

With Chun’s triumph coming on the heels of Inbee Park’s gold medal win, there’s immense pride back in South Korea. Chun helped the Koreans avoid a shutout in this year’s majors. They’ve now won a major in each of the last six years. They’ve won 11 of the last 22 majors played.

“This is going to be huge for Korean fans,” So Yeon Ryu said.

After winning Sunday, Chun revealed she smiled through some emotional pain at year’s start. A controversial mishap at the Singapore airport before the HSBC Women’s Champions in March was harder on Chun than she acknowledged publicly.

Back in the spring, Chun was injured when fellow South Korean star Ha Na Jang’s father lost control of a 15-pound travel bag, sending it bouncing down an escalator. It struck Chun in the lower back. She missed a month recovering from injuries to her pelvis, sacroiliac joint and lumbar muscles. The media furor the mishap created in South Korea, pitting her against Jang, troubled her more than she acknowledged at the time.

Chun withdrew from the HSBC Women’s Champions, the JTBC Founders Cup and Kia Classic while recovering from injury. All the while, the controversy simmered between Chun and Jang fans.

“It was an inner struggle,” Chun said Sunday. “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.”

Chun was paired with Jang in the first two rounds of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June. She said the pairing was stressful, but it actually “led to healing” between her and Jang. “It was nobody’s fault, just by mistake, everything’s cool,” Chun said.

Chun’s smile said everything’s more than cool now in Chun’s world. It’s historically excellent.

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Davies sweeps senior majors with Sr. LPGA Championship

By Associated PressOctober 17, 2018, 10:45 pm

FRENCH LICK, Ind. -- Laura Davies won the Senior LPGA Championship on Wednesday at chilly and windy French Lick Resort to sweep the two senior major events of the year.

Davies birdied the final hole for a 2-under 70 and a four-stroke victory over Helen Alfredsson and Silvia Cavalleri. The 55-year-old Englishwoman won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open in July at Chicago Golf Club. In March in Phoenix, she tied for second behind Inbee Park in the LPGA's Founders Cup.

''I wish there were more of them to play,'' Davies said about the two senior majors. ''This was a real treat because I've never put three good rounds together on this course. With the wind today and the challenging layout, I think 2 under par was a really good score.''


Full-field scores from the Senior LPGA Championship


Davies led wire to wire, finishing at 8-under 208 on The Pete Dye Course. She birdied three of the four par 5s in the final round, making an 8-footer on No. 18.

Alfredsson also shot 70, and Cavalleri had a 71. Michele Redman was fourth at 1 under after a 73. Brandie Burton, two strokes behind Davies after a second-round 66, shot 77 to finish fifth at 1 over.

Juli Inkster followed an 80 with a 73 to tie for 12th at 6 over.

Davies earned $90,000 for her 86th worldwide professional victory. She won four regular majors.

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For Korean women, golf is a double-edged sword

By Randall MellOctober 17, 2018, 10:30 pm

There is always a story behind the tears.

For In Gee Chun, it’s a story about more than her victory Sunday at the KEB Hana Bank Championship.

It’s about the other side of the Korean passion that runs so deep in women’s golf and that makes female players feel like rock stars.

It’s about the unrelenting pressure that comes with all that popularity.

Chun explained where her tears came from after her victory. She opened up about the emotional struggle she has faced trying to live up to the soaring expectations that come with being a young Korean superstar.

Her coach, Won Park, told GolfChannel.com on Wednesday that there were times over the last year that Chun wanted to “run and hide from golf.” The pressure on her to end a two-year victory drought was mounting in distressing fashion.

Chun, 24, burst onto the world stage when she was 20, winning the U.S. Women’s Open before she was even an LPGA member. When she won the Evian Championship two years later, she joined Korean icon Se Ri Pak as the only players to win major championships as their first two LPGA titles.

Following up on those victories was challenging, with Chun feeling as if nothing short of winning was good enough to satisfy Korean expectations.

After the victory at Evian, Chun recorded six second-place finishes, runner-up finishes that felt like failures with questions growing back home over why she wasn’t closing out.

“There were comments that were quite vicious, that were very hard to take as a person and as a woman,” Chun said. “I really wanted to rise above that and not care about those comments, but I have to say, some of them lingered in my mind, and they really pierced my heart.”

Chun struggled going from the hottest star in South Korea to feeling like a disappointment. She slipped from No. 3 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings to No. 27 going into last week’s KEB Hana Bank Championship. Maybe more significantly, she slipped from being the highest ranked Korean in the world to where she wasn’t even among the top 10 Koreans anymore.

“Some fans and the Korean golf media were hard on her, mostly on social media,” Park wrote GolfChannel.com in an email. “It caused her to start struggling with huge depression and socio phobia. She often wished to run away from golf and hide herself where there was no golf at all.”


Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos


Socio phobia includes the fear of being scrutinized or judged by others, according to the Mayo Clinic’s definition of conditions.

Though critics of South Korea’s dominance have complained about the machine-like nature of some those country’s stars, we’ve seen quite a bit of emotion from South Koreans on big stages this year.

After Sung Hyun Park won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in July, the world No. 1 with the steely stare uncharacteristically broke into tears.

“This is the first time feeling this kind of emotion,” Park said back then. “It’s been a really tough year for me.”

It was the second of her three victories this season, a year in which she also has missed seven cuts.

“A lot of pressure builds up,” said David Jones, her caddie. “That’s just what happens when you’re that good, and you’re Korean.”

While American players admire the massive popularity Koreans enjoy in their homeland, they see what comes with it.

“Koreans really do elevate their women players, but at the same time, they put a ton of pressure on them,” American Cristie Kerr said. “There’s pressure on them to not only be good, but to be attractive, and to do the right things culturally.”

So Yeon Ryu felt the pressure to perform build as high as she has ever felt with Koreans trying to qualify for the Olympics two years ago. The competition to make the four-woman team was intense, with so many strong Koreans in the running.

“This just makes me crazy,” Ryu said back then. “The biggest thing is the Korean media. If someone is going to make the Olympics, they're a great player. But if somebody cannot make it, they're a really bad player.”

Ryu didn’t make that team, but she went on to share LPGA Rolex Player of the Year honors with Sung Hyun Park last year. She also won her second major championship and ascended to world No. 1.

LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park was under fire going to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She was coming back from injury and there was growing criticism of her. She was hearing clamor to give up her spot to a healthy player, but she went on to win the gold medal.

“I almost cried on air,” said Na Yeon Choi, a nine-time LPGA winner who was doing analysis for Korean TV. “Inbee had so much pressure on her.”

After the Koreans won the UL International Crown two weeks ago, there was as much relief as joy in their ranks. Though viewed as the dominant force in women’s golf, they watched the Spaniards crowned as the “best golfing nation” in the inaugural matches in 2014 and then watched the Americans gain the honor in 2016. There was pressure on the Koreans to win the crown at home.

“There were some top Koreans who didn’t want to play, because there was going to be so much pressure,” Kerr said.

Chun got the nod to join the team this year after Inbee Park announced she was stepping aside, to allow another Korean a chance to represent their country. Chun was the third alternate, with Sei Young Kim and Jin Young Ko saying they were passing to honor previous KLPGA commitments.

Chun went on to become the star of the UL International Crown. She was undefeated, the only player to go 4-0 in the matches.

“In Gee made up her mind to devote herself to the team and played with an extremely high level of passion and focus,” Won Park wrote in an email interview. “She took the International Crown as a war in her heart. She did not play, but she `fought’ against the course, not against the opposing team . . . During all four winning matches, she gradually found her burning passion deep in her heart and wanted to carry it to the LPGA KEB Hana Bank.”

Park explained he has been working with Chun to change her focus, to get her to play for herself, instead of all the outside forces she was feeling pressure to please.

“She was too depressed to listen for a year and a half,” Park wrote.

So that’s where all Chun’s tears came from after she won the KEB Hana Bank.

“All the difficult struggles that I have gone through the past years went before me, and all the faces of the people who kept on believing in me went by, and so I teared up,” Chun said.

Park said Chun’s focus remains a work in progress.

“Although it will take some more time to fully recover from her mental struggle, she at least got her wisdom and confidence back and belief in her own game,” Park wrote. “This is never going to be easy for a 24-year-old young girl, but I believe she will continue to fight through.”

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Asia offers chance for players to get early jump on season

By Rex HoggardOctober 17, 2018, 6:00 pm

When the field at this week’s CJ Cup tees off for Round 1 just past dinner time on the East Coast Wednesday most golf fans will still be digesting the dramatic finish to the 2017-18 season, which wrapped up exactly 24 days ago, or reliving a Ryder Cup that didn’t go well for the visiting team.

Put another way, the third event of the new season will slip by largely unnoticed, the victim of a crowded sports calendar and probably a dollop of burnout.

What’ll be lost in this three-event swing through Asia that began last week in Kuala Lumpur at the CIMB Classic is how important these events have become to Tour players, whether they count themselves among the star class or those just trying to keep their jobs.

The Asian swing began in 2009 with the addition of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, although it would be a few years before the event earned full status on Tour, and expanded in 2010 with the addition of the CIMB Classic. This week’s stop in South Korea was added last season and as the circuit transitions to a condensed schedule and earlier finish next year there are persistent rumors that the Tour plans to expand even more in the Far East with sources saying an event in Japan would be a likely landing spot.

Although these events resonate little in the United States because of the time zone hurdles, for players, the Asian swing has become a key part of the schedule.

Consider that seven of the top 10 performers last year in Asia advanced to the Tour Championship and that success wasn’t mutually exclusive to how these players started their season in Asia.

For players looking to get a jump on the new season, the three Asian stops are low-hanging fruit, with all three featuring limited fields and no cut where players are guaranteed four rounds and FedExCup points.

For a player like Pat Perez, his performances last October virtually made his season, with the veteran winning the CIMB Classic and finishing tied for fifth place at the CJ Cup. All total, Perez, who played all three Asian events last year, earned 627 FedExCup points - more than half (53 percent) of his regular-season total.

Keegan Bradley and Cameron Smith also made the most of the tournaments in Asia, earning 34 and 36 percent, respectively, of their regular-season points in the Far East. On average, the top 10 performers in Asia last year earned 26 percent of their regular-season points in what was essentially a fraction of their total starts.

“It's just a place that I've obviously played well,” Justin Thomas, a three-time winner in Asia, said last week in Kuala Lumpur. “I'm comfortable. I think being a little bit of a longer hitter you have an advantage, but I mean, the fact of the matter is that I've just played well the years I played here.”

Perhaps the biggest winner in Asia last season was Justin Rose, who began a torrid run with his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and earned 28 percent of his regular-season points (550) in the Far East on his way to winning the FedExCup by just 41 points.

But it’s not just the stars who have made the most of the potential pot of Asian gold.

Lucas Glover finished tied for seventh at the CIMB Classic, 15th at the CJ Cup and 50th in China in 2017 to earn 145 of his 324 regular-season points (45 percent). Although that total was well off the pace to earn Glover a spot in the postseason and a full Tour card, it was enough to secure him conditional status in 2018-19.

Similarly, Camilo Villegas tied for 17th in Kuala Lumpur and 36th in South Korea to earn 67 of his 90 points, the difference between finishing 193rd on the regular-season point list and 227th. While it may seem like a trivial amount to the average fan, it allowed Villegas to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals and a chance to re-earn his Tour card.

With this increasingly nuanced importance have come better fields in Asia (which were largely overlooked the first few years), with six of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking making the trip last week to Malaysia and this week’s tee sheet in South Korea featuring two of the top 5 in world - No. 3 Brooks Koepka and No. 4 Thomas.

“I finished 11th here last year and 11th in China the next week. If I can try and improve on that, get myself in contention and possibly win, it sets up the whole year. That's why I've come back to play,” Jason Day said this week of his decision to play the Asian swing.

For many golf fans in the United States, the next few weeks will be a far-flung distraction until the Tour arrives on the West Coast early next year, but for the players who are increasingly starting to make the trip east, it’s a crucial opportunity to get a jump on the season.

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Watch: Woods uses computer code to make robotic putt

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 3:10 pm

Robots have been plotting their takeover of the golf world for some time.

First it was talking trash to Rory McIlroy, then it was making a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale's famous 16th hole ... and now they're making putts for Tiger Woods.

Woods tweeted out a video on Tuesday draining a putt without ever touching the ball:

The 42-year-old teamed up with a computer program to make the putt, and provided onlookers with a vintage Tiger celebration, because computers can't do that ... yet.