BEDMINSTER, N.J. – In Gee Chun’s 10,000-watt smile is returning.
So is her health.
Chun, the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open champion, is on the rebound from a mysterious esophageal malady that knocked her out of the Meijer Classic last month and put her in a hospital for two days in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“I was really worried about her,” said her coach, Won Park. “Her windpipe was tightening, and she couldn’t swallow food.”
Chun required an esophageal dilation to stretch her esophagus. She went 10 days eating only baby food, but she says she is rebounding.
“I don’t feel 100 percent yet, but I can eat anything again,” Chun said. “I’m getting better.”
Chun, 22, lost weight, including muscle mass, through the ordeal and is still working to regain her former strength.
Chun, No. 5 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, is enormously popular in Korean sports, and she has won over a lot of American fans with a strong following here.
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When Chun won the Evian Championship last year, she joined Se Ri Pak as the only players to win major championships as their first two LPGA titles. She has a chance this week to make history by becoming the first player to win three majors as her first three LPGA titles.
With Chun’s major championship success, Park said there’s increasing pressure on her back in Korea to win more. He said it’s creating stress that may have contributed to Chun’s illness.
With four second-place finishes this year, Park said the near misses have only escalated expectations.
“In Gee is a superstar in Korea, but people have such high expectations,” Park said. “It’s like second-place finishes aren’t good enough.”
Chun acknowledges feeling intense pressure to succeed, but she said it isn’t unique to her among Korean players.
“Other players have the same problems,” Chun said.
Chun has a game built for U.S. Women’s Opens. She hits a lot of fairways and greens, and she’s one of the tour’s best putters. She burst onto the American scene winning the U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club two years ago.
“I have unforgettable memories of that,” Chun said. “It lifted me up, and I hold on to those memories.”