In Gee Chun is up and running.
She said as much when we met at Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando, Florida – her home base in the United States. For the first time in a year, Chun is healthy enough to run again. It’s one of many milestones for Chun, whose confidence in speaking English has soared since we first met in Ocala last February.
We sit and chat in the clubhouse while waiting for her instructor, Dr. Won Park, to join us. She tells me about her off-season, when she arrived in Florida for her pre-season training and her five-week hiatus from the game. Chun asks the server for a drink menu and receives a cocktail list with desserts – it’s not what she expected. We laugh about drinking in the middle of the day and she pushes me to order a dessert – all spoken in English.
Learning English has become a bit of an obsession for Chun. After she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2015 she gave her acceptance speech entirely through a translator. Making the most of every available minute to learn, she began writing sentences and entire paragraphs on the back of her yardage book and read them on the course. Her team teases her about it.
“That was talked about a lot in Korea,” jokes Dr. Park, who has taken a seat across from Chun. “People in Korea spotted her looking at her yardage books and mumbling and started wondering. People wondered what she was doing talking to herself.”
14-months after her U.S. Women’s Open victory, it wasn’t the golf but her desire to give her post-round interview in English that kept Chun up late the night before the final round of the Evian Championship. She wasn’t worried about the 54-hole lead she slept on, but if she would be able to convey her thoughts in English should she win on Sunday.
She did both.
That afternoon at Grand Cypress, Chun is dressed head to toe in navy blue. She sits tall in her chair and smiles as she tells me she’s back to running not once but twice a day.
“I like running, but I couldn’t try last year,” Chun said. “I start this year. No pain, I’m very happy.”
It was a pastime she enjoyed and also did for exercise, but was forced to stop last year. Chun was struck in the back by a suitcase in the airport following the 2016 Honda LPGA Thailand and suffered pain for the remainder of the year. When asked about the injury, the smile disappears from Chun’s face. Dr. Park, who sits across from Chun at our tiny table, picks up where she trails off.
“The area around the disk there’s fluid. The part that covers the fluid there is a tear due to the luggage and that has been carried over the whole season,” Dr. Park explains about Chun’s injury. “Every second or third tournament she started to feel pain. That’s why she had to take time off and on, off and on. Luckily it was not career finishing.”
Doctors recommended Chun take three to four weeks away from the game to rest her back and allow it to heal naturally. Following the CME Group Tour Championship, where Chun took home the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award and Vare Trophy, she shut it down for the year. Dr. Park says the team decided to take a five-week break to ensure Chun was fully recovered for the 2017 season.
It was the longest Chun has ever gone without picking up a club.
“Doctors said she didn’t need to do rehab. She recommended a certain degree angle of the spine when she does Pilates work,” Dr. Park explained. “She paid attention to it and her Pilates trainer paid attention to it. After the five weeks she started to do work on her body, exercise and she began to feel really good.”
“Yes, much better. Almost gone,” Chun says about her current pain level. Her Pilates instructor made the trip with Chun to Orlando and plans to travel with her during the season. Throughout 2016, Chun compensated for her pain by altering her position at address. During the off-season, both Chun’s Pilates instructor and Dr. Park have focused on helping Chun maintain the correct spine tilt.
“I want to try to make good address position,” Chun said about one of her goals for this year.
If her goal setting for 2017 is anything like last season, she’s sure to reach them. The world No. 4 set out to capture the Evian Championship last September after missing the cut the year before. She not only made it to the weekend but set a new major championship scoring record of 21-under par – the lowest winning total in major championship history, male or female. With her victory, she also became the first player since Se Ri Pak to make her first two victories on Tour major titles. Golf’s toughest tests are where Chun thrives. Of her 13 worldwide wins, seven are majors.
“I love challenges on the course because major tournament courses are very tough and they have a lot of challenges, so my focus is more sharp,” Chun explains.
Her game is getting sharper too.
At the time of our meeting Chun is two weeks deep into her pre-tournament training at Grand Cypress. She’s one of 13 players from the LPGA, KLPGA and juniors who are training with Dr. Park. He helps his players get Tournament ready by manufacturing pressure. Players compete amongst themselves in a Tournament each week at Grand Cypress – but there’s more than a victory on the line.
Each player is given a handicap. Chun’s is minus two, so even if she finishes at Even par she’ll be given a score of two-over. Players are charged a dollar per bogey and if players shoot over 80 there’s a $10 penalty. Chun came close to cracking that mark on day one.
“First day was not good. I was 77,” Chun laughs about her score. “After first day, it’s better.”
She’s already completed the second round of Dr. Park’s weekly tournament when she meets me in the afternoon. After we part ways, Chun plans to work on her putting and short game, but is focused mostly on just getting comfortable with her swing again. It’s been a long five-week break after a tough season for Chun.
But she’s ready to hit the ground running.