Over the last twenty years, both men and women on the PGA and LPGA tours have set new standards for the low score in relation to par in major championships. On the PGA Tour, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson have both carded a -20 respectively in the 2015 PGA Championship and the 2016 Open Championship. Rory McIlroy’s -16 at the 2011 U.S. Open currently is the benchmark for that tournament, and Tiger Woods (1997) and Jordan Spieth (2015) both tamed Augusta National with -18 performances at The Masters.
On the LPGA, five women – Dottie Pepper, Karen Stupples, Cristie Kerr, Yani Tseng, and Inbee Park – won major championships with scores of -19. It turned out that registering a 20-under par performance would last as the gold standard in majors for all of two years.
On September 18, 2016, a 22-year-old young woman from Seoul, South Korea, did something in a major that no one had ever done in the history of men’s or women’s golf. In Gee Chun, a rookie last season on the LPGA Tour shocked the golf world with her -21 victory at the Evian Championship in Evian-les-Baines, France. Perhaps it might not have been so surprising given Chun’s performances in majors.
In 2015, Chun became the first player to win majors on three worldwide tours (KLPGA, JLPGA, LPGA) in the same year. Along with fellow South Korean and World Golf Hall of Fame member Se Ri Pak, Chun is the only other player in LPGA history whose first two wins on tour were major championships. Chun captured the U.S. Women’s Open in 2015 as a non-member and narrowly missed out on winning the ANA Inspiration in March 2016, losing to eventual champion Lydia Ko by a single stroke.
Chun’s performance at The Evian Championship was simply dominant from the get-go. Without missing a single green, she carded a bogey-free opening round of 63 to reach 8-under par along with co-leader Sung Hyun Park. On Friday, Chun matched the low-round of the day with a stellar five-under par (66) to take a two-stroke lead at -13 under heading into the weekend. She made history on Saturday by setting the LPGA 54-hole scoring record of 19-under par (194), eclipsing the mark Annika Sorenstam set (199) at the 2004 LPGA Championship.
On Sunday, Chun capped her incredible wire-to-wire run with a two-under par 69, good enough for a four-shot victory and a historic -21 for the tournament. She also broke the 72-hole scoring record established by World Golf Hall of Fame member Betsy King (267, 1992 LPGA Championship) with a four-day total of 263. For the golfer nicknamed “Dumbo” because her “ears are always open,” Chun did not allow the chatter surrounding her potentially historic tournament to interfere with her final round.
“It was more pressure for me, but I tried to think about it as a really good experience,” Chun said after the tournament. “I tried to enjoy it more.”
For Chun, who missed the cut the previous year at The Evian Championship, winning the tournament was just the tip of the iceberg. With the $487,500 winner’s check, the South Korean crossed the $1 million mark in career earnings, and would eventually finish the season fourth on the list ($1,501,102) in just 19 events played. The victory also locked up the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, as Chun won it by the third-largest margin of all time.
Lastly, the triumph in France helped propel her towards capturing the season-ending Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, becoming only the second rookie to win the coveted award and the first since World Golf Hall of Fame member Nancy Lopez in 1978. Following the tournament, the LPGA sent Chun’s Evian Championship scorecards to the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum.
Travis Puterbaugh is the Curator of the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum in St. Augustine, Florida. He graduated from Loyola University of New Orleans with a B.A. in Communications, the University of South Florida with an M.A. in History, and has worked in the museum industry for 14 years. Travis considers getting to walk inside the ropes during Day One of the 2016 International Crown as the highlight of his time working for the Hall of Fame. Follow Travis on Twitter at @WGHOFCurator.
Feature photo courtesy of the Ladies European Tour.