When I was 11 years old, my father took me to the driving range. It was just me, my father and one of his friends. He asked me to try and hit a ball — I had never hit a golf ball in my life. He teed the ball up for me, and I took a swing.
It was not good. It was not good at all. But I was an 11-year-old swinging a golf club for the first time. It was not supposed to be very good.
My father’s friend made fun of me — my swing, and my result — and I got upset. Then, I got fired up. I knew I could do it, and the more he made fun of me, the more I wanted to prove it.
I spent that whole day out there hitting balls. Most of the time, it was frustrating. But it turned to fun.
A couple of weeks ago — nine years after my father’s friend made fun of me that day at the driving range — I won the U.S. Women’s Open.
I guess I got the last laugh.
A lot of people thought I was going to join the LPGA tour after that win. Believe me, I have put a great deal of thought into it, and I have decided that I am going to wait to officially join the LPGA Tour at the start of the 2016 season.
My goal has always been to join the LPGA Tour. It is the highest-quality women’s golf tour in the world. But I am not going to rush into it, for a couple of reasons. First, I have made commitments to tournaments and promises to sponsors in Korea for this year, and I want to keep my word and fulfill those commitments. And second, I have one-and-a-half years left of college at Korean University. As Korea’s top private school, it’s our version of Harvard. In South Korea, school starts in March and ends in December — it is not like in the U.S. — so when the 2016 LPGA season starts, I will be getting ready for my final year in college. By the end of my junior year, I will have finished the majority of my coursework, so I will be much more prepared to devote the time and energy necessary to be competitive on the LPGA Tour once my junior year is complete.
Completing college and getting my degree is very important to me because even though I am confident in my ability on the golf course, I want to make sure I have other skills, other knowledge and other options outside of golf — just in case.
I know firsthand what can happen when a person loses their livelihood.
My parents ran a small restaurant in the rural South Korean countryside, and my mother was the head chef. When I was a teenager, the restaurant fell on hard times. Things were not going well. When I was 15 years old, my mother broke her ankle while working at the restaurant. With the business already struggling and now my mother — the head chef — not being able to work, my parents were forced to shut the restaurant down.
It was a very difficult time for my family financially. My parents had lost everything, and without the restaurant, they completely dedicated themselves to me and my golf.
When I turned professional at 17, I was not ready. My game was not ready. But I had to do something to start making money and contribute to my family. I am so grateful to my parents for their support and for the opportunity to play golf, and I was happy to be able to repay them by turning professional and having success.
Today, five of the Top 10 golfers in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings are South Korean (including me, at No. 9) and golf is the No. 1 sport for young girls in South Korea. But it was not always that way. My parents had the foresight and the vision to see where women’s golf was headed, and they wanted me to be a part of that. For that, and for them, I am forever grateful.
I am honored both to be in the company of the other golfers in the World Top 10 — especially my fellow South Koreans, who have been so helpful and so supportive. For them, I am also grateful. I would not be in the position I am in today if not for their support.
I am also honored to carry on those traditions of not only performing at the highest level in the world — the LPGA — and representing my country well, but also in helping to inspire the next generation of South Korean golfers and young golfers around the world. I want to help grow the game in my own country and around the world.
My name is In Gee Chun. My coach, Dr. Won Park, gave me the nickname “Dumbo.” Many of you met me when I won the U.S. Women’s Open, and I look forward to getting to know you and for more of you getting to know me when I officially join the LPGA Tour for the 2016 season.
For me, it will be a dream come true.
(Editor’s Note: This article was translated by In Gee Chun’s coach Dr. Won Park from Korean.)