So Yeon Ryu Reaps Confidence From No. 1 World Ranking July 12, 2017 | BEDMINSTER, N.J. By Lisa D. Mickey

Since her surprising win at the 2011 U.S. Women's Open, So Yeon Ryu has enjoyed a steady rise in her career and is now No. 1 in the world. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Aspiration has played a key role in the career of So Yeon Ryu on the way to her current status as the world’s top-ranked player in women’s golf.

As was the case with many players from the Republic of Korea, Ryu (pronounced You) was a youngster watching when Se Ri Pak won the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open in a dramatic 20-hole playoff. Pak went on to become the first Korean to enter the World Golf Hall of Fame, inspiring countless girls in her homeland to take up the game in pursuit of similar success.

Ryu was also watching when compatriot Inbee Park won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2008 at Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota.

Ryu was already a force at home on the Korean LPGA Tour with nine wins, while Park was dominating LPGA tournaments and world rankings stateside.

But when Ryu won a three-hole playoff in the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor over fellow Korean Hee Kyung Seo, it catapulted Ryu’s career to a new level. Her victory introduced most Americans to the engaging young player who was not a member of LPGA Tour at the time.

That win granted Ryu automatic membership onto the 2012 LPGA Tour. She made the most of that opportunity with 16 top-10 finishes that included a win in the 2012 Jamie Farr Toledo Classic and honors as the LPGA’s top rookie. Competing on the LPGA Tour also cemented her friendship with Park.

When Ryu won the 2017 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in late June for her fifth career LPGA win, she moved to No. 1 in the Rolex World Rankings, where she has remained for the last three weeks. She also became only the third player in history from the Republic of Korea to reach the top spot – joining Jiyai Shin and her good friend Park.

“We are actually very lucky to have each other because we are a very good influence [on] each other,” said Park, when asked about her best friend moving into the No. 1 world ranking, which Park held for a total of 92 weeks between 2013 and 2015.

“When I was No. 1, she had so many opportunities to congratulate me and learn from me,” added Park. “I think we both push each other very hard. ... And now, I get my opportunity back to congratulate So Yeon and learn from her game when she is at her best.”

Ryu has been nearly unflappable this year, leading the LPGA in greens in regulation at 79 percent and earnings at $1,260,426. She is second in rounds in the 60s (29) and third in scoring average at 69.0 strokes per round. Her 2017 season includes nine top-10 finishes with two wins, including the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration in early April.

“I’m having a really great year this year,” said Ryu on Tuesday. “[But] to be honest, last year was a bit of a struggle with my game.”

Ryu began working with new coach Cameron McCormick -- who also coaches 2015 U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth – and and the swing changes they implemented took time.

She also lost confidence in her putting stroke and visited Ian Baker-Finch for some coaching with her performance on the greens.

“I told him, ‘I’m the worst putter in the world, I’m putting really bad and I really need your help,’” said Ryu.

But Baker-Finch didn’t see the same thing Ryu saw, actually praising her putting stroke. He also suggested that she trust herself more and try to enjoy her time on the greens.

“The biggest difference between before I was working with [Ian] and right now is I think my attitude is much more positive,” said Ryu, 27. “Right now, I’m more focused on how I’m going to make it instead of what’s going to happen when I miss it.”

Ryu also benefited from some sound advice from her sport psychologist, which she says has helped her handle the pressure of being the top-ranked woman player in the world.

“I cannot control the result [and] I never know how I’m going to play,” said Ryu. “What I can control is how I’m going to practice and prepare for this tournament – how I’m going to prepare all the game plans.”

Ryu admits that she has become more comfortable as world No. 1 and the demands that come with it. There is more pressure and sometimes she feels it.

“But at the same time, it’s sort of really fun because this is what I’ve been dreaming of,” she said.

Ryu has difficulty remembering exactly what she felt when she won the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open. She didn’t expect to win the championship, and was excited just to play her first two rounds alongside 1987 U.S. Women’s Open champion Laura Davies and LPGA veteran Sophie Gustafson.

“Then I won the tournament and I grabbed the trophy,” she said. “To be honest, I cannot even remember how I was feeling because it was like I was on a cloud. Winning the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open definitely changed so many things in my life.”

It opened doors. It ramped up her game. It put her in direct competition with 18-time winner Park, who added her second Women’s Open victory in 2013 and became the youngest member of the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2016, and it made Ryu remember how all the dreams began so many years ago.

“After I won the U.S. Women’s Open, I feel like all my dedication paid off,” she said. “That makes me so happy and definitely changed everything in my life. Hopefully, I can have another U.S. Women’s Open victory.”

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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