LANCASTER, Pa. — In Gee Chun, carrying a big silver trophy after winning the 70th United States Women’s Open on Sunday, suddenly had an entourage. After a photography session in front of the scoreboard with her name at the top, she was surrounded by nearly a dozen police officers and straggling fans seeking an autograph.
She tried to oblige every one of them before the crush became too big, but the police and security officers eventually closed off the group and kept Chun moving. As they slid her under the ropes, she gripped the trophy harder, trying not to drop it. When she saw a woman to her side, her left hand covering her mouth and sunglasses hiding her tears, Chun tried to hold back her emotions as well.
It was her mother, Eun Hee Kim, who had sacrificed everything in the hopes that this day would come.
“I tried to enjoy every moment of this,” Chun, who entered the tournament ranked 20th in the world, said through her coach and interpreter, Won Park.
Given the path that Chun took from Seoul, South Korea, to the 18th green at Lancaster Country Club, it would have been hard for her not to. Chun, 20, came from behind with a four-under-par 66 in the final round to best a crowded field of challengers — including Amy Yang, Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis, Morgan Pressel, Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko — and secure the title in the oldest major event in women’s golf, and her first major title.
It was all surreal for Chun, whose parents sank every dollar they had into her golf game. Both her mother and her father, Jong Jin Chun, had been laid off from their jobs in Korea after her father’s small convenience store in their rural town folded.
In Gee Chun was a prodigy in math who initially hated golf. She kept playing only because someone teased her about her swing when she first picked up a club and she grew angry.
Now, she is one of the most popular players in Korea — and that was before she birdied four of her last seven holes Sunday to win by a stroke.
“My parents tried everything to make sure I didn’t feel any financial pressure,” Chun said. “Not let me know about that just so I could enjoy the game. It wasn’t until later that I realized that they had such financial troubles.”
When Chun teed off Sunday, then, her position four shots behind the 54-hole leader, Yang, did not seem all that daunting.
Playing all day with a beaming smile — even after she bogeyed No. 18 to finish at eight-under 272, slide back into a tie with Yang and open up the possibility of a playoff — Chun continued to churn out birdies.
Lewis had looked to be Yang’s biggest challenger, but her round was derailed early by a double bogey on the fifth hole. After clawing back into a tie with Yang through 14 holes, Lewis was bit once again by a double bogey.
By that point, Chun had already begun lengthening her lead — and doing it with a smile.
“That’s just her makeup and character,” Chun’s caddie, Dean Herden, said. “She’s got a good upbringing and good parents. Coming from a not-well-to-do family, they really trusted in In Gee and her game. They had no money, and she wanted to be a pro golfer, so Mom and Dad stuck with her. It’s kind of one of those Cinderella stories.”
This was the first event in which Chun had worked with Herden, who is the regular caddie for Hee Kyung Seo, an L.P.G.A. player and a mentor of Chun’s. Seo, who did not qualify for the tournament, set the two up a little over a month ago.
After Chun had bogeyed the 18th hole, she and Herden waited for Yang to finish her round. Yang had a 10-foot putt to force a playoff and potentially ruin a burgeoning feel-good story, so Herden headed inside to wait it out. When Yang’s putt slid past the hole, he emerged, threw his hands in the air and gave a whispered shout.
“She’s so young,” Herden said later of Chun, the first player to win her United States Open debut since Birdie Kim in 2005. “Just such a nice kid. You feel special for someone like that in this business.”
The bogey on the 18th hole left Yang, who had an eagle and a birdie on Nos. 16 and 17, with a 71. At 273 for the tournament, she finished two strokes ahead of Lewis (70) and Park (67).
Herden clutched two bottles of Champagne under his left arm as he watched the photography session for the unlikely champion.
“All I could do was just enjoy the game,” Chun said. “That’s what has brought me to the U.S. Open win.”