SEOUL (Reuters) - As a maths prodigy with a near genius IQ level of 138, it is safe to say the nickname ‘Dumbo’ is not a reference to South Korean golfer Chun In-gee’s intelligence.
The 20-year-old became the latest South Korean to score top marks on the LPGA Tour by bagging the U.S. Open on Sunday, becoming the first player to win the tournament at the first attempt since compatriot Birdie Kim in 2005.
The U.S. Open trophy has become a frequent visitor to Seoul over the last decade, with Korean golfers winning seven of the last 11 titles, and Chun’s win on Sunday was the 12th by a South Korea-born golfer in 17 LPGA Tour events this year.
Tagged as a ‘star in the making’ since turning pro in 2012, Chun has seven wins on the Korean tour, including three this year, and she said Sunday’s victory, and the acclaim that comes with it, would spur her on to achieve more.
Enrolled at Seoul’s prestigious Korea University, Chun said she was not a natural the first time she picked up a club, and had it not been for some fatherly teasing her career path may have been very different.
“I really enjoyed studying and I was doing pretty well at school, but one day my father and my father’s friend took me to a golf range and they asked me to hit some shots,” she told reporters at a news conference.
“I tried to swing the club but the result wasn’t that good. Then my father and my father’s friend teased me a little bit and I got fired up, and I felt I could do it.
“Then I decided to spend some time in golf, and I fell in love with golf like that.”
With a long graceful swing that packs a punch at impact, Chun’s game is built around precision iron play and a stellar short game.
She used both to great effect on Sunday, clawing her way back from four strokes off the lead to card a four-under 66 at Lancaster Country Club in Pennsylvania, pipping compatriot Amy Yang by a single shot.
The win earned her more than $800,000 in prize money and saw her vault 10 places in the world rankings to number 10, despite still playing on the domestic Korean tour.
“As I heard, this was a U.S. Open setting, the course played very long, the rough was tough,” said Chun, who negotiated the four rounds with new caddie Dean Herden.
Picking up vital pieces of information, even when it is just a whisper, is something Chun uses to her advantage.
In previous interviews she told Korean media she is uncontrollably curious, always on the lookout for new things.
“My ears are always open, I listen to other people carefully,” she told Golf Digest in 2013. “That’s how I got the nickname Dumbo.”
Her coach, Park Won, told the magazine: “When someone says something, In-gee listens to it and thinks about it for a long time. Then she starts asking questions.
“Actually, when you are next to her, it’s quite exhausting because of the questions.”
The nickname, like many of her ‘Flying Dumbos’ fanclub, followed her to the United States.
“When I came over here, some American fans recognized that nickname and called me Dumbo,” she said on Sunday.
“And some even shouted it ‘let’s go, Dumbo’, that has made me really enjoy the game.”
(This story has been refiled to fix spelling in 16th paragraph)
Additional reporting by Oh Seung-yun and Kim Hoo-yeon, Editing by Greg Stutchbury