‘Major Queen’ takes on the LPGA Tour

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‘Major Queen’ takes on the LPGA Tour

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Golfer Chun In-gee at the Hyundai China Ladies Open last month. Chun will compete as a U.S. LPGA Tour member this year. [KLPGA]

In 2015, Chun In-gee made a name for herself both in Korea and around the world. Including a U.S. Women’s Open victory, she triumphed at major golf tournaments in Korea and Japan, earning the nickname “Major Queen.”

This season, Chun has decided to mainly play in the U.S. LPGA Tour, and many consider the 21-year-old to be the top contender for LPGA Rookie of the Year.

“It’s too sad that 2015 has passed so quickly,” Chun said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. “I ask myself whether I can have the same achievements I had in the 2015 season in the future.”

Chun collected eight trophies last year - five in Korea, two in Japan and one in the United States. Among her eight wins, five came from major tournaments. She collected prize money totaling 2.47 billion won ($2.04 million) last year, behind only world No. 2 Park In-bee among Korea’s female golfers.

Chun is getting attention well before her debut as an LPGA Tour member. The LPGA Tour listed her as No. 5 on its list of golfers whom fans should keep an eye on this year. Kim Sei-young, the 2015 LPGA Rookie of the Year, was the only Korean golfer ranked above Chun, at fourth on the list.

Just like Kim Hyo-joo, who was runner-up for the LPGA Rookie of the Year award, Chun is moving to the LPGA Tour after conquering the local KLPGA Tour. However, there is also pressure for her to meet the high expectations people now have for her performance. Other challenges will include adjusting to a new environment and long stints on the road.

“Speaking objectively, I think it will be difficult for me to get better results than I did in 2015,” she said. “If I set my goals too high, I think that would stress me out, so my first aim is to make the top 10 in prize money ranking.”

In Korea, Chun is regarded as a woman of many gifts. In addition to her golf talents and beauty, she was also known for being a math prodigy as a child.

“People say I should learn to speak English well because I’m smart, but that’s not true,” she said. “Some people also say that I look like actress Han Ga-in, but these kinds of evaluations make me stressed out.”

Chun, who turned pro in 2012, said that her victory at the U.S. Women’s Open in July was a turning point in her golf career, in that she experienced the sport “in another dimension.”

“I watched a video of my performance at the U.S. Women’s Open, and I noticed that I was smiling when I missed a par putt in the last hole of the final round,” she said. “I realized my relationship to the game was on a different level. I was doing way more than just enjoying golf.”

Having nerves of steel is considered one of Chun’s biggest strengths, which may be why half of her 12 wins as a professional golfer are from major tournaments. Even Park In-bee, who is also known for ability to stabilize her mind, acknowledges this.

“It’s a really significant achievement that she’s based in Korea but can also do well in the United States and Japan,” Park said. “I have big expectations for her performance in major tournaments in the future.”

Among her 12 wins as a pro, two were from golf courses with Western grasses, and she says terrain won’t be a problem as she transitions into the LPGA Tour.

“I had such an inherent sense of Western grasses that at first, I doubted my connection to Korean grasses,” she said. “But regardless of the terrain, I had good results in 2015. Since I got rid of my negative thoughts, I can now play my game anywhere.”

But English is still a challenge for her, and Chun said she didn’t like English as a student.

“It’s still difficult for me to speak freely in English, but as I kept speaking it with my foreign caddie, I’m getting better,” she said. “I hope I can have many opportunities to conduct interviews in English [by winning the events].”

Besides her performance on the LPGA Tour, fans also wonder whether Chun will see any romance this year, as she revealed earlier that she’s never dated before.

“I’ve gotten a lot of questions recently about my ideal type of man,” she said. “However, I never think about having a boyfriend. Although there is a male entertainer whom I do like, I think it’s not realistic [for me to meet him].”

Chun’s other goal is to compete in the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in August, where golf will be an official Olympic sport for the first time since 1904.

Chun is currently ranked 10th in the world, which is the sixth-highest among Korean female golfers. Since only the top four golfers can compete in the Summer Olympics, getting good results is necessary.

“Although competition will be fierce, I believe I can do well if I enjoy the process of chasing an Olympic spot,” she said.

BY KIM DU-YONG [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]

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