Chun Relishes Role of Defender July 5, 2016 | SAN MARTIN, CALIF. By Tom Mackin

In Gee Chun joined an exclusive club by winning the 2015 U.S. Women's Open, and now she has her eyes on becoming a two-time champion. (USGA/JD Cuban)

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In Gee Chun joined an exclusive club in 2015 when she became just the fourth player to win the U.S. Women’s Open in her first attempt.

This week at CordeValle, the 21-year-old from Korea has a chance to join another elite group by becoming only the eighth back-to-back winner in the 71-year history of the championship.

Last year at Lancaster Country Club in Pennsylvania, Chun captured her first major title when she birdied four of the last seven holes for a final-round 66, edging Amy Yang by a stroke. She joined Patty Berg (1946), Kathy Cornelius (1956) and Birdie Kim (2005) as winners in their very first U.S. Women’s Open – Berg’s victory coming in the inaugural event. Chun’s total of 272 also matched the U.S. Women’s Open 72-hole scoring record shared by Annika Sorenstam (1996) and Juli Inkster (1999). The victory was one of eight worldwide for Chun in 2015, including the Japan Women’s Open.

“The win at the U.S. Women's Open last year was my dream come true,” Chun said. “And since my dream came true, my dream has continued to come true again and again, and this year has been great.”

Chun got off to a strong start in 2016 with three top-3 finishes in her first four starts, highlighted by a tie for second at the season’s first major, the ANA Inspiration.

She added another third-place finish last month at the Meijer LPGA Classic in Michigan.

“I think I'm doing very well this season,” said Chun, who estimates she is 99 percent recovered from a freak injury suffered in March when she was struck in the back by a piece of luggage while on an escalator. “If I continue to be like this, since this is a very long season, I'll come up with something really great.”

A victory this week would certainly fit that description. But it won’t be easy. Winning consecutive U.S. Women’s Open titles has been achieved just seven times, most recently in 2001 by Karrie Webb. Others include Mickey Wright (1958, 1959), Donna Caponi (1969, 1970), Susie Maxwell Berning (1972, 1973), Hollis Stacy (1977, 1978), Betsy King (1989, 1990) and Annika Sorenstam (1995, 1996). The spotlight that comes with being the defending champion will be bright as she takes on the challenging Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed layout at CordeValle.

“I’ve gone through a lot of pressure before each and every tournament back in Korea,” Chun said. “I have a lot of fans following me there, so I’m used to pressure. I’m not really worried about it as a defending champion. I am going to enjoy it.”

Providing added inspiration for Chun this week is the presence of fellow Korean Se Ri Pak, the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open winner, who is making her final start in the championship. “She's a hero to all the Korean players,” said Chun. “Her U.S. Open win was a motivating factor to all the Korean junior players and parents. Thanks to her win at the U.S. Open, all the Korean juniors and players have come this far so far. And the Korean golfing industry has grown a lot. It's all thanks to her great career on the LPGA Tour.”

Chun also expects vocal support to come from her own supporters, known as the Flying Dumbos. The connection with the Disney character comes from her coach, who bestowed the nickname upon Chun for her finely attuned listening skills. “This is the first time I am defending an event in the U.S., so there are many Flying Dumbo fans that are going to be here for this week,” said Chun. “I've always enjoyed playing at the tournaments with their support.”

Their presence should help bolster Chun in her attempt to join the back-to-back club.

“This is the greatest event and it comes with the greatest pressure,” Chun said. “I’m really happy to face this pressure. It is an honor.”

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.

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