Chun In-gee won the Women’s PGA Championship and her third major in Maryland on Sunday with a wire-to-wire victory, but not without some final day drama.
Ranked 33rd in the world, the South Korean had led from the front courtesy of a record-breaking opening round at Congressional Country Club, setting a new course record before extending her advantage to six strokes at the halfway stage on Friday.
Yet a weekend drop-off saw the 27-year-old’s lead shrink to three heading into championship Sunday, where three holes from the close, she found herself trailing Lexi Thompson. Having finished the opening round 10 shots behind Chun, the American had held a two-shot lead with seven holes to play.
Bogeying four times on a disastrous front nine, Chun admitted the pressure of battling for her first major in six years was getting to her.
“I want to tell truth, I couldn’t control all my pressure,” she told reporters.
“I believe if I stick to my game plan and then I have a chance in the back nine, so I try to hang in there.”
And hang in she did, as Chun rallied with five pars and a crucial birdie at the 16th through the last six holes to finish three-over for the day and five-under overall.
Meanwhile, Thompson shot three bogeys through her closing five holes to see her grip on the title slip at the death, as she ended one stroke short of Chun, level with Australia’s Minjee Lee in second.
Champion at the US Women’s Open in 2015 and the Evian Championship a year later, the win marks the end of a four-year winless run for Chun, whose last LPGA Tour victory came at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in October 2018.
It also sees her claim $1.35 million of a Women’s PGA Championship record $9 million purse, with the prize money doubled from last year’s event.
‘I always said my depression is getting better’
In an emotional press conference, Chun reflected on the culmination of a difficult four-year journey through which she said she had faced calls from some to retire.
“When I got a slump, some people said, ‘In-gee, you should retire because your game is not good right now,’” she said.
“But no matter what they said, I believe I can make a win again. I’m so proud now.”
Speaking to her older sister last week, Chun admitted that, struggling to “see the goal,” she was considering leaving the US. Yet when her sibling advised she quit golf to prioritize herself, Chun realized she was not ready to walk away.
“I think this win feels really special because I always said my depression is getting better,” Chun said.
“I really cried [talking to her sister] … When I heard what she said, I believe I still have a spirit, still want to play golf.
“I’m just so happy to make win after all that happened. I just want to keep saying, ‘I’m so proud of myself.’
“That’s why I want to keep saying thanks to everyone who believed in me and never gave up on me.”
US Open champion Lee, who narrowly missed out on a second major in the same month, believes the win will give Chun “a huge confidence boost.”
“I think she went through a few hardships here and there,” Lee told reporters.
“So I think she’ll be really, really happy and just grateful for everyone around her.”