'Prodigy' Chun ties Kingsmill course record with pristine 62

.@ingeechun_dumbo edged Amy Yang by 1 at U.S. Women's Open last year

JAMES CITY — Veteran caddie David Jones played junior golf for his native Ireland, competed on various tours and taught the game as a professional. In short, he has discerning tastes and is slow to praise.

In Gee Chun has turned his head like no other.

And Saturday Chun, 21 and the reigning U.S. Women's Open champion, played Kingsmill in equally unique fashion, birdieing her final six holes and tying the River Course record with a 9-under-par 62.

With Jones on the bag and a small, vocal group of supporters watching her every swing, Chun vaulted from a logjam at 52nd to a second-place tie. Her 9-under 204 aggregate puts her one shot behind leader Ariya Jutanugarn entering Sunday's final round.

"She's an all-around good golfer, without a shadow of doubt," Jones said. "She's a very good putter, but she's got a very, very good mentality. … She has the best mindset for this game I think I've ever seen. …

"If you watch her practice, she practices the way we're all supposed to practice. She never hits the same shot twice. She plays every practice shot like it's a tournament shot, and that rubs off when she gets on the golf course, especially days like today when she's going low."

And Saturday could have been lower. After splitting the fairway with her drive at the par-4 ninth, her final hole, Chun's approach landed 6 inches from the cup and rolled mere feet away, leaving her a tap-in birdie you weekend hackers could have made.

"Course record, course record," hooted several of her fans, wearing "Team Dumbo" caps, a nod to her nickname, given because she hears everything.

Her bogey-free 62 matches the tournament record set by eventual champion Jiyai Shin in 2012's opening round, and in broken English, Chun credited her "friends" with easing her mind after opening rounds of 73 and 69.

"Especially on the back nine she hit it very close," Jones said. "She didn't have many long putts at all. And there were a couple putts early on that she left out there. She just hit it really good all day. … We just play the golf course that's in front of us."

Soaked by morning rains, the already waterlogged course Saturday invited aggressive play and produced a host of low scores during a mostly dry afternoon — a shoutout to Kingsmill's stellar grounds crew headed by course superintendent John Phillips and director of maintenance Chad Adcock.

Three-time Kingsmill champion Cristie Kerr shot 64, Jutanugarn, Pornanong Phatlum and Chella Choi 65s, Laetitia Beck 66.

Chun dusted them all.

"I was so happy to tie the course record," she said. "I had an 8-under on the (Korean) LPGA before, but 9-under is my low round."

Chun was born and resides in South Korea, and her bio on SeoulSisters.com, the website that chronicles some of that nation's top golfers, says that she "was a math prodigy with a genius-level IQ." Introduced to the game at age 11 by her father, she quickly found another calling.

Chun turned pro in 2012, in part to help the family finances, and finished third on the Korean LPGA money list as a rookie the following year. Last season she won five times on the Korean Tour, twice on the Japanese circuit and at the U.S. Women's Open, closing with a Sunday 66 to edge Amy Yang by a shot.

Winning the Open at age 20, in your first appearance no less, is genius-level as well, and shortly thereafter Jones took over as her caddie. As a non-member on the LPGA Tour, Chun had made 10-of-11 cuts entering this, her rookie, season.

Not surprisingly, she was immediately competitive, with three runner-up finishes and a third-place tie in her first four events. Chun finished one behind winner Minjee Lee at the Lotte Championship and one back of champion Lydia Ko at the ANA Inspiration, the season's first major.

"We haven't done anything wrong," Jones said. "That's what professional golf is. Sometimes somebody beats you, and you just have to say well done."

Chun is eighth in the world rankings and is among the LPGA's top 10 this season in putting, scoring, rounds in the 60s and earnings. Moreover, through three rounds this week she's hit 39-of-42 fairways. Nothing wrong, indeed.

"You gotta remember, she won eight times last year, and four of those were majors," Jones said. "So she knows how to get it done."

Jones enunciated those final six words to emphasize his point.

"It doesn't matter where you win in the world now," he continued. "Winning's winning, and if you know how to do that, it just keeps coming."

Perhaps again Sunday.

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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