Even in her darkest moments, Chun In-gee never lost sight of her goal -- to return to the winner's circle on the LPGA Tour.
The 27-year-old South Korean has finally accomplished that by capturing the KPMG Women's PGA Championship in Bethesda, Maryland, on Sunday (local time). The one-stroke victory over Lexi Thompson of the United States and Minjee Lee of Australia was Chun's third career LPGA major title and the fourth tour win overall -- but her first since October 2018.
"Golf is never easy. Still, I can't believe I got the win," Chun said at her press conference at the Congressional Country Club, where she finished at 5-under 283. "That's why I feel really emotional now. I am so happy I made it. My body is still shaking."
Chun burst onto the LPGA scene by winning the U.S. Women's Open, the oldest LPGA major, as a nonmember in 2015. The following year, Chun claimed her second major title at the Evian Championship, while setting the record for lowest winning score at a major, men's or women's, at 21-under. Chun won the Rookie of the Year and the Vare Trophy as the scoring leader in 2016.
Chun then hit a rough patch and went more than two years before picking up her next victory. Then it was another three-plus years before Chun won again.
Along the way, Chun fell into depression, amid talks from naysayers that she should just retire because she wasn't any good. Chun said she always told people she was feeling OK even when the opposite was true, because she didn't want to make anyone worry about her. As recently as last week, Chun was struggling to find her sense of purpose in golf.
Chun said she was able to regroup in time for the major after a heart-to-heart with her sister.
"To be honest, last week, I talked to my older sister, and I really cried. I said, 'I don't know what I want to do. I don't have any goal because I feel really hurt,'" Chun said, fighting back tears. "She said, 'In-gee, just quit golf.' When I heard what she said, I didn't want to quit golf. I believed I still wanted to play.
"I am just so happy to get this win after all that happened," Chun continued. "I just want to keep saying I'm so proud of myself. I want to keep saying thanks to everyone who believed in me and never gave up on me."
Chun had built a comfortable six-shot lead after two rounds. She gave away half of it in the third round when she shot a 75. And in the final round, Chun saw her three-shot lead evaporate quickly on the front nine, when she committed four bogeys and trailed Thompson by two at the turn.
Chun traded a birdie at the 11th with a bogey at the next hole, but it was now Thompson's turn to tumble, as the American made four bogeys down the stretch. Chun made a nervy par putt for her second consecutive round of 75, but it was good enough in the end.
Lee, who finished play before Chun and Thompson, shot a 70 but still fell one shot back.
"I tried not to see the scoreboard the whole day, but on 17, I saw Minjee was playing really well," Chun said. "Lexi's play was great. She gave me a lot of pressure. But I didn't want to think about any other players' play because I said, 'I want to try to play this golf course versus me.'"
Chun admitted she had trouble handling the pressure early on, which led to those four bogey, and added: "I believed if I stick to my game plan, then I would have a chance on the back nine. So I tried to hang in there."
And no moment was bigger for Chun in the final round than her par putt on the 18th green. She had missed the green long from the center of the fairway, while Thompson gave herself a birdie opportunity despite pushing her tee shot into the crowd.
Thompson left her birdie attempt short, and Chun needed to drain her knee knocker to seal the win.
"I tried to give myself (a) talk, 'In-gee, you've made a lot of (long) distance putts, and you're handling the pressure already, so you can make it,'" Chun said. "I think every golfer playing from the last group on the last day has pressure. So I thought this pressure is not just me. The key is who can handle (it) well."
Asked what she learned about herself after the emotional win, Chun said it was her resilience and perseverance.
"When I got into a slump, some people said, 'In-gee, you should retire because your game is not good right now,'" Chun said. "But no matter what they said, I believed I could win again. I'm so proud now. I knew if I kept working hard, then I would have a chance to win." (Yonhap)