First-round 64 at Women’s PGA Championship gives Chun Congressional course record

BETHESDA — What golf course was In Gee Chun playing Thursday?

Nelly Korda joked that she didn’t know. One of the longest hitters on the LPGA Tour, she fought “brutal” gusty and misty conditions to finish with a 1-under 71 for her morning round. The world No. 2 asked playing partner Brooke Henderson the same question.

“On the cart coming to the scoring [tent], Nelly was like, ‘What golf course is she playing?’ It sort of feels like that,” Henderson said. “She’s just on fire.”

Chun was indeed playing on the same newly-renovated Congressional Country Club Blue Course as her competitors. And in the track’s return to the professional golf calendar, the South Korean unequivocally made it hers — shooting a course-record 64 during a wet and cool first round of the Women’s PGA Championship.

“I didn’t think about all the history from the course today,” Chun said after her record round. “I just kept going to make birdie as much as I can.”

The score bests Rory McIlroy’s dominant 65 in the first round of the 2011 U.S. Open on Congressional’s previous Blue setup, which was more cloistered with trees around the fairways and holes. It also ties the lowest score in any Women’s PGA Championship round, done three times prior.

“I feel so good because I always think when my name is going with something [historically], then I feel very honored,” Chun said, “and it makes me keep going to play golf.”

Her 8-under-par round featured an incredible nine birdies, including a run on seven of eight holes as she rounded the turn. She played easy and without pressure, even being so light as to joke with caddie Dean Herden about the kiwis she likes to carry in her bag to eat during a round.

“I think golf is all about the process. After I had a couple of not-good weeks before, I felt really bad after that. But I’m trying to make the focus on the course for the process, not for the result,” Chun said.

The soggy turf, which picked up more than 2 inches of rain overnight, was not as much of a slog for the two-time major champion as it was her competitors. Chun said she focused on ball spin, using her 7-wood and 9-wood to set up her birdie opportunities. 

“I had a couple of good shots with my woods,” Chun said. “That’s how I had birdie chances. At the same time, the greens were softer, so I think it was just good balance.”

That was key on a day that saw little to no run-out on drives and second shots in Congressional’s now-wider fairways. American Jennifer Kupcho, who won in a playoff last week at the Meijer LPGA Classic and carded a 71 Thursday, said her tee shots using the driver were hitting and stopping “within a yard.”

“I think it’s very similar to a U.S. Open setup,” Kupcho said. “Other than it’s soft, the greens are really soft. The length and the rough length is also very similar.”

Henderson agreed, saying that tournament officials used the placement of some pins along ridges to make the soft greens more challenging. She hopes to balance the desire to take more risks in shot selection with such a daunting score to chase at the top of the leaderboard while not deviating too much from her style of play.

“I think because they thought it was going to play soft, I think they were going to kind of trick-out with some of the pin positions,” Henderson, who also finished 1-under 71, said. “I think they were going to put them on the ridges and make them a little harder, which it did.”

Korda carded two bogeys and three birdies to finish her day at 1-under. With an average driving distance this year of 273 yards, she’s used to eating up large chunks of distance off the tee. But she described the 6,831-yard circuit as “really, really long, especially for me” and hopes to stay aggressive in her game, as conditions are projected to improve.

“Anything can happen,” Korda said. “You still have three more days, and they can do whatever they want with this golf course. If it dries up, they can make it really hard.”

The course should do that for the weekend, with temperatures forecasted to jump 10 to 20 degrees from Thursday’s high of 69. With some classic D.C. summer heat on the way, the field hopes Chun doesn’t get any hotter than she’s already been.

“Hopefully just go out tomorrow, minimize the mistakes, and make a few more birdies and hopefully catch In Gee,” Henderson said, “because she’s on fire right now.”

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