Hotel Gunshots And Major Championships: In Gee Chun’s Caddie Dean Herden On Eventful Week At KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

In Gee Chun celebrates with caddie Dean Herden after wining the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. (Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports)

BETHESDA, Md. — Over a long week at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, winning caddie Dean Herden saw an awful lot of shots. And fortunately, there were a few he never heard.

Herden, 58, who earned his fifth major title and 54th worldwide victory on Sunday on the bag of In Gee Chun at historic Congressional Country Club, stresses to Chun all the time that she needs to have a short memory. It’s ironic, because Herden just had a week he will not forget for a long time.

Deadly Shooting

It began Thursday morning when Herden learned about a deadly shooting at his hotel in nearby Rockville the previous night. At the Red Roof Inn, there was a knock on a door, a man answered, and he was shot four times. Two men later were arrested in the shooting.

Harden stayed at the same hotel in May when he came to Congressional on a scouting mission. He negotiated a weekly rate with the manager, and eventually led about 20 other caddies to stay there during KPMG week. Some packed up and left after the shooting; not Herden, an amiable Aussie who has been caddying for 30 years.

“I stayed,” he said Sunday evening after Chun had posted a one-shot triumph over Minjee Lee and Lexi Thompson. “It has to be the safest place on Earth now. Every time I looked, there was two cop cars there.”

Harden is a popular man on the LPGA Tour and quite the global ambassador for the game. He hails from Wagga Wagga, in Australia, played professionally in Canada, works a bunch in the U.S., and officially resides in South Korea. Does he ever converse with Chun in her native language?

“No, I don’t know one lick of Korean,” he said.

He does know what it’s like to find good players, and to be a winning caddie. Herden won a U.S. Women’s Open with Chun in 2015, in Lancaster, Penn., less than 100 miles from Bethesda. After three seasons with Jin Young Ko, World No. 1, Herden rejoined Chun late last season, at the LPGA’s Pelican stop in Florida. Chun had not fulfilled her potential after winning two early majors. Until Sunday, she had not won in three-plus years.

There were a few keys to victory for the pair in Bethesda, a victory that arrived on a renovated Congressional layout that proved quite demanding. Only three rounds in the 60s were shot on the weekend, and Chun won after weekend rounds of 75-75. How did she do it? She won off the back of a magnificent round early Thursday, when she went out and shot 8-under 64 despite playing more than half the round in a steady rain. The day’s next-best score was 69. One of those magical days, Herden called it. Chun had a new 7-wood in her bag that she hit five times, setting up four birdies.

Special Player

Chun, 27, is a special player, with a special attitude. She began Sunday with a three-shot lead—she had led by six after 36 holes—and watched it disappear in three holes. She made nearly as many bogeys on her front nine (four) as pars (five). Herden said if he was being honest, Chun probably thought she’d left the trophy to somebody else after she three-putted the par-5 ninth hole for bogey, falling two shots behind Thompson.

“We had a chat walking down 11,” Herden said. “We looked at each other and said, ‘(Are) you happy?’ ‘Yeah, I’m happy.’ She was always happy. We just kept things light and casual out there. … We took the panic out of it. Nothing was a big deal.”

Chun was feeling pressure, but so would the others. She hit a 9-iron to 25 feet at the 11th, made the putt, and was back in the game. At the par-5 16th, where the tee was moved up to 495 yards, Chun fanned a drive and laid up well back, near where she had been in the two previous rounds. What followed was a timely wedge to 11 feet, and again, she buried the putt. Thompson, also trying to win for the first time since 2019, was near the green in two, but pitched long, putted long coming back, and missed her par attempt. Bogey. Two-shot swing.

Chun took the solo lead when Thompson and Minjee Lee each three-putted on 17. Chun made a solid par down the last to seal the victory.

“Patience. She showed patience,” Herden said. “I believe after the 10th hole, she probably thought somebody else was going to go ahead with it, and win. I think she was hanging on to finish second. But then it all changed quickly. The birdie at 16 was everything. That was great.”

For Chun, the KPMG victory marked her third major. Pretty heady stuff. On that back nine, Herden made sure he put his vast experience to work, too. The chat down 11 to keep Chun loose. The experience not to panic after Chun fanned her drive down 16, meaning she would have no shot at reaching the green in two. He knew when to read situations down the stretch. As Chun sized up a 4-footer for par to win the tournament on the 72nd hole, Herden gave her space.

“She’s just a deep thinker,” he said. ”Under the gun, she gets really focused. It was important for me to stay away from that putt on 18. It really was. When she gets in her own zone, there’s a time and place, so I just quietly stepped away.

“She’s got this. I didn’t want to bother her at all. Let the horse run.”

Caddying Background

Herden found caddying after trying a playing career of his own for six years, spending time on the Asian and Canadian tours. (“I think I made six cuts in six years,” he joked.) He found a niche caddying for Asian players. He looped for Jiyai Shin, and learned a good deal with Jin Young Ko, the current World No. 1. Nobody put things behind her as quickly as Ko, and Herden has convinced Chun that she is better off doing that, rather than dwelling on shots already taken.

Chun’s opening 64 was something pretty special, and the rest of the week that followed, the highs and lows, Herden wouldn’t trade any of them. Not even his hotel accommodations, apparently. No one was making light of the fact that a man lost his life, but it surprises few who know him that Herden would be in his own world, sleeping away in a back room, never hearing a shot. It wasn’t his first caddie gig interrupted by gunfire. In Orlando years ago, during the old PGA Tour event at Disney World, Herden heard nearby gunshots one night and dove into a bathtub.

Hey, for a tidy $550 for the week at the Red Roof, television, fridge, split two ways Herden’s Monday morning hotel bill would not be putting much of a dent into his 10-percent winner’s cut of Chun’s $1.35 million first-place check.

Caddie Dean Herden
Herden and Chun. (Courtesy Photo)

Of course, there was a time when Herden missed out on a six-figure payday after getting into a tiff with the father of a player, but that’s for another day. Herden knows where he likely will be staying in five years, when the KPMG returns to Congressional.

“When I caddied on the PGA Tour, at (TPC) Avenel, seven or eight years ago, I stayed there,” Herden said. “Yeah, when I got there (last week), I felt I’d stayed there before. It was a lot worse back then. They renovated. New toilets.”

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