Just seconds after 27-year-old In Ji Chung scored her last shot at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, she hugged runner-up Lexi Thompson. It was a historic moment for Chun, who won her third major on the LPGA Tour and received a $1.35 million winner’s check on Sunday.
“I’m so proud of this. I’ve been waiting for this moment. And it finally happened,” Chun told Sportzshala. “Sometimes my golf is not perfect. But I managed to stay focused and have a good attitude.”
A week before Chun made her speech in Congress, she questioned her golf path. While talking to her older sister on the phone, Chun couldn’t stop crying. The South Korean native didn’t want to stay in the United States. She missed home. She felt lost and worried about how best to deal with her depression.
“I don’t have any goal because I don’t see a goal. Because I’m in a lot of pain right now,” Chun said to her sister in front of the major. Her sister advised her to quit golf and focus on herself.
Chun paused. The words of the sister served as a wake-up call. She didn’t want to quit. “I believe I still have the spirit and I said, ‘B Gee, you still want to play golf.’
No one could keep up with Chun during his first two days in Congress. Before the weekend, she led with six shots after 64 and 69 shots. Then, it seems, her collapse began. Shooting 75 points on Saturday, Chun managed to maintain the lead. But her lead was vulnerable to Thompson’s play. Or so it appeared.
After two shots to 70 on Saturday, Thompson was in the final group. She seemed confident, collected, and in complete control of her game. “I’m just happy to be competing,” Thompson said after the third round. “I know I’ve put in a lot of hard work and seeing it pay off means a lot to the world.”
Thompson signed autographs and smiled for photos before the final tour. Three behind Chun early in the day, Thompson quickly found her pace. She seemed unstoppable. By the fourth hole, Thompson had taken the lead. She finished the top nine with one less. That’s when serious thoughts began to swirl about whether the 27-year-old Thompson could finally get a second specialty.
It has been eight years since Thompson lifted a major trophy and three years since she won the Tour. Over the past year, her short game has matched her long game, and Thompson has found herself firmly on the leaderboards. This season, she placed second in two tournaments and finished in the top 10 in three tournaments. Putting himself in constant competition, things seemed to be getting better again for Thompson.
Thompson rocked on the 12th par-4 hole in Congress as she propelled her body through the tee shot. Her left leg went off balance and Thompson made an awkward sound as she watched her ball bounce sharply off the fairway to the right. At this point, it didn’t seem catastrophic. But after she made a horror story, self-doubt crept into her again. Two holes later on the 14th, she missed a two-foot par shot.
She then missed another short shot with two holes to go. Chun made a bride. Thompson’s leadership quickly evaporated. And it turned out that her confidence went with her. On the 17th, Thompson made another scarecrow. Chun took the lead, and Thompson’s play began to crumble. Playing the final six holes one under, Chun secured third in the major and fourth overall in the LPGA, scoring five under 283. Thompson hit three ghosts in the final six holes.
While Chun wept with joy after scoring her last shot, Thompson held back her tears of defeat. She walked off the 18th hole with her shoulders down. Thompson signed autographs and put on a manly face for the young fans. She then skipped media contact. No explanation was required.
The winner of the day, Chun, hugged her rivals. She put up a fight. It’s been six years since Chun’s last major and, like Thompson, four years since her previous career win at the LPGA.
For the final nine holes, television commentary focused on Thompson and her “demons” of self-doubt, her mental game, and her “being in a better place.” At the same time, Chun shed some light on the pressure of playing at this level after winning. “There’s a lot of pressure there. And you don’t really know what the other person is thinking. But we all feel the pressure.
“When you are in the final group on the last day, there is a lot of pressure on you. I think Lexi played great. It’s easy to see the misses, but she played great.”
The runners-up spotlight is still a hot and pervasive topic in the golf world, especially with regards to major games. Last week, Will Zalatoris took second place at the Major for the third time. And every time a significant second place like Thompson comes along, it can be easy to try and pinpoint exactly what happened and why.
Thompson, who was not available for an interview after the tournament, posted a photo of herself waving her fists on the final day, just hours after she placed second. Her caption read, “Not the result I wanted, but still a special week to play at the Congressional Country Club in the PGA KPMG Women’s Championship!”
We may never fully understand what happened during the last nine in Congress. We may never fully understand what it’s like to miss with short shots and lose a significant advantage. We may never fully understand what it’s like to hug a major champion while holding back tears. And that’s okay.