2015 Champion Chun Forges Lasting Bond With LCC Community

By Ron Driscoll, USGA

| May 29, 2024 | Lancaster, Pa.

2015 Champion Chun Forges Lasting Bond With LCC Community

In Gee Chun’s victory in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club was meteoric in the sense that it marked the Republic of Korea native’s first triumph in the United States. The thrilling win was stamped by a rally that included birdies on three of her last four holes, making her just the fourth player to win the U.S. Women’s Open in her championship debut.

Anyone would agree with an assessment of the 20-year-old Chun’s golf skill as precocious; i.e., well beyond her years. But she returns this week to the site of her memorable victory having displayed other admirable qualities that set her apart from her peers – at any age.

Chun took up golf at age 12, and when she became serious about the game, her parents made financial sacrifices that included her mother taking a job as a restaurant manager. As Chun noted last year in an LPGA video interview, “My parents were struggling and yet they still supported me to play. The gratitude is deeply ingrained in my heart, so I live by the phrase, let’s live a life where we can make a positive impact.”

In Gee Chun swing

In Gee Chun returns to Lancaster with fond memories of the course and an incredible commitment to the club. (USGA/Jason Satloff)

That thoughtful, thankful nature inspired Chun to embark on a mission to give back to Lancaster Country Club and the community that embraced her as she completed that improbable victory nine years ago. It’s not a stretch to wonder whether any golfer, male or female, has displayed more generosity of time and effort toward the place that helped launch their stardom.

Chun’s efforts began later in 2015, when Lancaster member Jody Kegel reached out to her to request a signed hole flag for a fund-raising effort. Recognizing that the event, on behalf of cancer research, would also benefit the wider Lancaster community, Chun provided a pair of signed flags and a check for $10,000.

That initial donation was the springboard to a formal effort established in 2019, known as the In Gee Chun LCC Educational Foundation, which to date has raised more than $470,000 for 70 recipients. Eligibility for the grants is limited to LCC caddies, employees of the club and their dependents. Chun has made numerous return visits in support of the foundation, both to raise funds and to meet those who have earned stipends for their educational goals.

Chun raises trophy

Chun's strong connection to the Lancaster community started in 2015 when she captured the U.S. Women's Open title. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

“It’s not like she just sends money our way when it fits her schedule,” said Lauren Stadel, an LCC member who has served on the foundation board since its inception. “She has truly embraced this mission, along with her manager and her coach, and although she has gone on to have this truly impressive career, we love that this place is sort of home for her in the U.S. She knows the members and the scholarship recipients by name; she’s just remarkable.”

“Remarkable” and “unique” are two words commonly used by LCC members when discussing Chun, who explains her support of the foundation in simple terms: “My dream is to give the opportunity of learning to young friends, to allow them to not give up their dream and make it achievable with our support.”

“I’m not a historian who can talk about whether there have been other relationships like the one we have with In Gee,” said Matt Buckwalter, the president of the club. “I honestly can't imagine that there is. There was this wonderful sort of innocence that she exhibited the entire week of her victory, and despite all her accomplishments and accolades from then until now, her humility and her graciousness continue to show. She exudes everything that is fantastic, not only about the game, but as a human being.”

Stadel describes Chun’s patience when the now three-time major champion, who is an honorary member of the club, joins donors who get an opportunity to play with her on one of her visits.

“Members will join her in a fundraiser – everyone from scratch golfers to 30-handicappers – and then join her for lunch afterward,” said Stadel. “What everyone says after they play with her is what a warm and friendly personality she is. She puts the 30-handicappers at ease very quickly.”

Chun reacts with Lancaster

Chun made a special connection to everyone at Lancaster in 2015, including the maintenance staff. (USGA/John Mummert)

Chun’s winning ways – both on the course and off – have influenced the fund’s ability to bring in donations from her fans around the world.

“Every once in a while – actually, more often than that – a donation will come into the club office or the website from a person who we don't know at all,” said Stadel. “It’s given simply in honor of In Gee, or to mark the number of birdies she made in a LPGA Tour event that week. There are people across the world who are helping us fund our mission without solicitation, which is amazing.”

Now 29, Chun continues to impress Buckwalter, who has seen first-hand the impact the foundation has on the aspirations of its grant recipients, who are pursuing degrees in fields as varied as engineering, radiology, international relations and turf science.

“I was out at Pebble Beach for last year’s championship and she was very gracious to the contingent from our club,” said Buckwalter. “She wanted to see my kids again. She just takes time for people in a way that’s pretty special.”

Lancaster members aren’t the only ones who have noticed Chun’s unflagging determination to change lives. The LPGA recognized Chun’s role in the LCC foundation by naming her as one of three finalists last year for its inaugural Velocity Global Impact Award. As a result of a two-week fan vote that ended last March, Chun edged out Lizette Salas and Mariah Stackhouse for the award, which was accompanied by a $100,000 donation to the LCC foundation.

“As time has pushed on, she hasn’t lost that zeal to come back and to meet the recipients of the awards,” said Buckwalter. “I’m sure her life has gotten much, much busier over the years, but you would never guess it when she’s here. For someone who has achieved such a level of success in their athletic endeavors, I’m sure this is very rare, if not completely unique.”

In Gee Chun points to her name in the Hall of Champions

Chun is proud of her first major victory, which was sealed at Lancaster and is celebrated in the Hall of Champions at the USGA Museum. (USGA/Jason E. Miczek)

There’s that word again: unique. This week provides an opportunity for Chun to capture a second U.S. Women’s Open on the same course, a feat that has never happened.

“We know that we caught lightning in a bottle in a lot of different ways in 2015,” said Stadel. “Not only with the performance of the course and the fans who made it a record-setting event; we also couldn’t have hand-picked a better champion. I don’t think something like this happens too often, especially in a lesser known metropolitan area like Lancaster.”

It’s safe to say that a champion such as In Gee Chun doesn’t come along very often.

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.