BETHESDA — Which golf course does In Gee Chun play on Thursday?
Nelly Korda jokes that she doesn’t know. One of the longest-batting players on the LPGA Tour, she battled “brutal” wind gusts and foggy conditions to finish the morning with a 1-under 71. The world number two asked partner Brooke Henderson the same question.
“Score on the cart [tent], Nelly was like, ‘What golf course is she playing?’ Kind of like that,’ Henderson said. ‘She just caught fire. “
Chun does play on the same newly renovated Capitol Country Club blue course as her rivals. The South Korean player was unequivocally her player as the track returned to the pro golf schedule – hitting a course record 64 in the wet opening round of the Women’s PGA Championship.
“I didn’t think about all the history of today’s class,” Chun said after her record-setting bout. “I’m just making as many birdies as I can.”
Rory McIlroy’s dominant 65 outscored Rory McIlroy in the first round of the 2011 U.S. Open in a blue setup before Congress The advantage of this setting is that the trees around the fairway and hole are more secluded. It also tied for the lowest score of any round in the Women’s PGA Championship, having previously completed three.
“I feel good because when my name is associated with something, I always think [historically], and then I was very honored,” Chun said, “and it allowed me to keep playing golf. “
She was 8 under and had an incredible nine birdies, including seven of her eight holes on the turn. She played with ease and no pressure, even joking with caddie Dean Hedden that she likes to pack kiwis in a bag to eat during a round.
“I think golf is about the process. After I had a bad few weeks, I felt really bad after that. But I tried to focus on the process, not the results,” Chun said.
The wet turf had more than 2 inches of rain overnight, which wasn’t nearly as tough for the two-time Grand Slam champion as her rivals. Chun said she focuses on the spin of the ball, using her 7-wood and 9-wood to create her birdie chances.
“I hit a couple of good shots with my woods,” Chun said. “That’s why I got the birdie. At the same time, the greens are softer, so I think it’s a good balance.”
It was a pivotal day, with tee and second shots barely used up on Congress’s now wider fairways. American Jennifer Kupcho, who won last week’s play-offs at the Major LPGA Classic and shot 71 on Thursday, said she hit and stopped “within a yard” from her driver’s tee shot.
“I think it’s very similar to the setup of the U.S. Open,” Kupcho said. “In addition to being soft, the greens are really soft. Length and rough are similar.”
Henderson agreed, saying tournament officials used some pins placed along the ridge to make the soft greens more challenging. Her desire to take more risk in her shot selection is balanced against her desire to chase such intimidating scores up the leaderboards without straying too far from her playstyle.
“I think because they think it’s going to be soft, I think they’re going to cheat at some of the pin,” said Henderson, who also had a 1-under 71. “I thought they would put them on the ridge to make them stiffer, and it did.”
Korda finished her day at 1 under with two bogeys and three birdies. With an average teeing distance of 273 yards this year, she’s used to spending a lot of distance on the tee. But she described the 6,831-yard track as “very, very long, especially for me,” and wanted to stay aggressive in her race as conditions were expected to improve.
“Anything can happen,” Korda said. “You have three days and they can do whatever they want on this golf course. If it dries up, they’re going to make it very difficult.”
The course should do just that over the weekend, with temperatures expected to jump 10 to 20 degrees from Thursday’s high of 69 degrees. With some typical Washington summer heat on the horizon, the field is hoping that Chun won’t get any hotter than she’s already.
“Hopefully go out tomorrow, minimize mistakes, make a few more birdies and hopefully catch In Gee,” Henderson said, “because she’s on fire right now.”