LANCASTER, Pa. — When In Gee Chun comes back to Lancaster, which happens once or twice a year, Jody Kegel’s dogs are usually sitting in the driveway waiting for her arrival—there’s Forrest, who is still around, and Webster, who passed away last summer after Chun’s most recent visit. Forrest knows the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open champion better than he knows Kegel’s adult children by now, and the minute Kegel says her name, he gets excited.

Inside the house, there will be a jar of Wilbur Buds waiting; made in nearby Lititz, they are Chun’s favorite chocolate treat, and the first thing she’ll go for when she gets past the dog. This house in Lancaster is where she eats, where she sleeps, and where Kegel will sometimes find her in the morning sitting on the kitchen floor, re-organizing an entire cabinet and throwing away expired foods. If you measure the concept of home by comfort, it’s no wonder Chun considers this a second home.

“I have my grandmom here,” Chun said Wednesday. “Her name is Jody. We have a special relationship.”

“I’m really like a grandmother to her,” Kegel said in a phone call minutes later, echoing Chun even though she hadn’t heard her speak. “And I think of her the exact same way. It’s very, very unique and very, very special.”

Chun has made strides with her English in the last few years, though she still needs an interpreter, or at least clarification, in certain moments. But when this strange connection with Kegel began, she knew almost no English. How could a relationship like this come about? The answer is it was impossible without a surprising champion who cared very deeply.

Chun won her first LPGA event, which happened to be the U.S. Open at Lancaster Country Club, when she was just 20 years old. There was something special happening that week when she beat Amy Yang by a shot, and she recognized the feeling on the 12th hole when fans began shouting her nickname, “Dumbo,” at her. How did they know? It remained a mystery, but the connection to a place that was 6,984 miles from her native Gunsan, South Korea began to grow.

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She won, her career was launched in earnest, and she went home. In the meantime, Kegel, a lifelong Lancaster resident and Lancaster Country Club member, managed to get in touch with Won Park, Chun’s coach. The fundraiser for 18 Hole Women’s Golf, the group she belonged to that raised money for cancer patients, was coming up, and she thought a signed flag from Chun would be a nice touch. The connection was made, she sent two flags to Korea (Chun wanted one to keep for herself) and before long, a package came back. Inside was a signed flag, a note that she had painstakingly printed in English expressing her appreciation for Lancaster and the club, and—the jaw-dropper—a $10,000 donation.

“I was totally speechless,” Kegel said. “This young lady from across the world just did this and doesn’t really know us that well.”

She did it again the next year, without anyone asking, reaching out to Kegel to ask if they had anything planned for the summer. They stayed in touch after that, and Chun told Kegel that education was deeply important to her, so in 2018 they started the In Gee Chun LCC Educational Foundation. Chun’s affinity for Lancaster was so deep that this charity exists solely for employees of Lancaster Country Club and their dependents—maintenance workers, caddies, kitchen workers. Anyone can apply for a scholarship, and if they’re selected by Kegel and her board, the rewards pay a portion (or in some cases, more than a portion) of their education expenses. That first year, they gave out five scholarships. Last year, they gave out 19, and in total they’ve now awarded more than $400,000.

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One of the great fascinations when Chun first came to Lancaster were the fireflies that lit up the summer sky at night. She has a mind for metaphor, and the creatures stirred something in her.

“In 2015 when I saw the firefly,” she said, “suddenly some thought in my mind. Oh, I want to be kind of like firefly, lighting up the people and give them some inspiration.”

She wanted to help people, and she wanted those people to help others, and she was especially heartened this year to see the first recipients from the start of her foundation graduate from college.

“It’s so meaningful and emotional to see what they’re doing and then keep continuing to be kind of like firefly,” she said.

This wasn’t just charity from afar, either; Chun kept coming back to Kegel’s house, kept attending fundraisers and dinners and golf outings, and this year, with the U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster, she was able to meet the scholarship winners.

If Chun’s level of commitment to this place seems almost unbelievable, it can still seem that way to Kegel too. She has to make it a point not to ask for too much, partly because she doesn’t know where Chun would draw the line.

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“I don’t need anything except for her to feel comfortable, to feel loved, to feel cared about,” Kegel said, “because that’s what she gives back.”

One of the scholarship recipients was a young woman without much family support who had dropped out of college on her first try. She worked at the club, and applied for a scholarship, but her chances weren’t good at first; everybody at the club loved her, but the vetting process was tough and tried to identify those with a chance at success, and her history worked against her. A big debate ensued, and eventually Kegel and her fellow board members decided to take a gamble. They gave her a semester’s worth of support, with the rest of the scholarship predicated on her early results. The gamble paid off—the woman got straight As, earned the rest of the scholarship, graduated last December, and landed a dream job. All because of the generosity of a South Korean golfer who grasped on to her community.

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Chun continues to go above and beyond; after discovering the artist Sun Mi Park in the offseason, she took up painting and created 10 works that she sold to benefit the foundation. Her fan group in Korea, the Flying Dumbos, donate a check every year, and other donations will come from far-flung locations, like the fan in California who sends an annual check, or the fans who find her manager at tournaments and give her a donation to pass on.

But just as Chun gives to Lancaster, Lancaster gives to Chun. Not only does she consider it a second home, and not only does she consider Kegel a surrogate grandmother, when Chun struggled with depression and thought about quitting golf, Lancaster was her beacon. She wanted to stick around long enough to play at the 2024 Open and end her career in the special place where she made her first breakthrough. That vision of the perfect ending kept her going through her lowest moments. Today, she doesn’t want to quit golf anymore, but her return is special anyway.

“The most important thing you can make clear is that she’s not a typical professional athlete,” Kegel said near the end of our conversation.

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It’s a lesson Kegel learned yet again when tragedy struck in December 2021. Her husband Coog suffered an aortic aneurysm, and it was the kind that kills 99 percent of its victims. He survived against the odds, spending two months in the ICU, and she became his full-time caregiver. As he fought for his life, Chun sent regular videos encouraging him, cheering him on, and applauding his progress as he re-learned how to live. It was just another example of her natural inclination to genuinely care.

Once in a while, Chun will break up that natural sincerity with an impish grin, as she did when a reporter asked her Wednesday what advantages she enjoys at the course.

“I have a lot more fans here than other players, so I can get all the love from the people,” she joked.

For Kegel, and the fans following her this week, Chun has already said plenty with her actions, and every bit of the love she gets will be earned. They know from experience that it will be love well spent, and that every bit of it will be returned.

“In 2015 I couldn’t speak English, so after I won the U.S. Women’s Open, I could say only thanks to people,” Chun said. “Now I can say more.”

This article was originally published on golfdigest.com