Ryu making her own legend

By Randall MellMay 18, 2017, 11:30 pm

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – So Yeon Ryu can’t seem to escape Lexi Thompson’s shadow.

Thompson was all the buzz in Wednesday’s pro-am at the Kingsmill Championship, skydiving from 10,000 feet into the first fairway before her tee time. Strapped to a Navy SEAL in a tandem jump, Thompson dramatically promoted her new charity benefitting the families of wounded and fallen special ops forces.

Come Thursday morning, Thompson was almost immediately the story here again, soaring to the top of the leaderboard with a 6-under-par 65.

Ryu played right in front of Thompson, where she couldn’t help hearing the celebrations that Thompson was setting off with five consecutive birdies coming home.

Ryu shot 70.

Behind the bleachers at round’s end, as Ryu answered a reporter’s questions, Thompson passed a walkway into scoring, drawing the clamor of adoring fans who wanted the American star’s autograph.

It seems like it’s been like this for Ryu since she beat Thompson six weeks ago in that controversial ending to the ANA Inspiration.

Ryu won her second major championship that day, but she did so in an awkward ending with so much of the focus on Thompson and the four-shot penalty Thompson was assessed on the back nine of that final round.

In the rules debate that ensued, Ryu never got the credit or acclaim a major champion usually enjoys.

How has the fallout affected Ryu?

“She’s been accepting,” said Cameron McCormick, her swing coach. “So Yeon is the sweetest person in the world.”

McCormick knew that before he watched Ryu approach Thompson on the driving range at the Texas Shootout three weeks ago, the first event Ryu and Thompson played together since the ANA. McCormick watched Ryu hug Thompson before heading off to warm up for the first round.

“Lexi wrote something very nice about me in her Instagram right after the ANA,” Ryu said, explaining the hug. “She congratulated me and said she didn’t want anything that happened to take away from my victory. I told her that probably wasn’t easy to write after a loss, and I told her I really appreciated that. I also told her I thought she handled herself very well afterward.”



Ryu says she understood the uproar that followed the ANA, but she’s human, and it was difficult knowing her story wasn’t being told, that the risky overhaul she made to her game wasn’t going to be detailed or fully appreciated.

“It was such an uncommon situation, so I understood, but I’m not going to lie,” Ryu said. “There wasn’t a lot of joy, seeing a different story being told. But, you know, I thought about Lexi, about the heartbreaking situation she was in, and I thought about things differently.

“I decided, let’s win another major, and I’ll make my story later.”

Tom Watson, Ryu’s caddie, said the uproar that followed the ANA, the debate over the two-shot penalty Thompson got for incorrectly making her ball in the third round and the additional two-shot penalty she got for signing an incorrect scorecard, left Ryu briefly wondering if Ryu really deserved to win.

“The first few days after, I think it was hard for her,” Watson said. “She struggled thinking maybe she didn’t really win, but Lexi lost. We talked about that, and she came to understand that she played some great golf over the last five holes that day, when anything could have happened.

“We talked about the shots she hit under pressure, the putts she holed under pressure, and she started believing she deserved to win.”

Ryu’s victory didn’t come as a surprise to the people closest to her. Before the 2016 season, Ryu left her long-time coach Ian Triggs to go to work with McCormick, who also works with Jordan Spieth.

Ryu didn’t tweak her swing under McCormick.

“She made massive changes,” Watson said.

Ryu assigned Watson the task of finding a new coach after the 2015 season, and he led her to McCormick.

McCormick immediately reshaped Ryu’s takeaway, making her swing flatter, less upright.

“Before, she had an almost straight-out wrist cock, early in the takeaway, with the face of the club going open right away, with the toe in the air when her hands were hip high,” Watson said. “Now, the club face is more neutral.”

Watson said the face stays more on plane with Ryu’s spine tilt throughout the swing.

“She feels like she’s very, very closed, going back with her arms and shoulders,” Watson said.

Ryu says she likes the new ball flight McCormick created.

“Before, my ball flight was way too high,” Ryu said.

Ryu said McCormick created a foundation that has added to the repertoire of shots she can hit, that he has made imagination a new weapon in her arsenal of shots.

“When I see Cameron, he never asks me to hit a straight shot,” Ryu said. “He asks me to hit a lot of different shots, to hit a push draw, a draw, a fade, to hit it high, to hit it low. He asks me to hit so many different kinds of shots. He’s given me more options to hit shots.

“It’s a totally different swing.”

Ryu was one of the best ball strikers in the game when she went to McCormick, but Watson believed she was too one-dimensional with her ball flight.

“So Yeon is a lot more creative now, and that’s probably the biggest change in her game,” Watson said.

The risks Ryu took to make these changes is the story that wasn’t told when she won the year’s first major.

Back when she first started working with McCormick, Ryu struggled getting comfortable.

“She wasn’t certain it was the right thing to do,” Watson said.

Ryu was at a crossroads, but she committed so thoroughly to the swing changes that she moved to Dallas to be near McCormick, who is based there.

Through seven starts this year, Ryu has a victory and two second-place finishes. She hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in any of those starts.

Ryu leads the tour in scoring (68.57), money winnings ($885,456) and greens in regulation (81 percent).

Ryu is also one of the best total drivers in the women’s game, ranking 24th in driving distance (261 yards per drive) and 36th in driving accuracy. She’s 16 yards longer per drive than she was two-and-a-half years ago.

“She seems even longer than that,” Watson said.

Ryu says there’s also more creativity in her short game. Ian Baker Finch teams with McCormick on Ryu’s putting.

Mostly, Ryu says she has more belief in her game.

The ANA victory was Ryu’s fourth career LPGA title, her first in two-and-a-half years. She won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2011, before she was an LPGA member, and there was pressure in her South Korean homeland to validate it with another major.

“Sometimes, when you can’t win, you feel like you’re a failure,” Ryu said. “So, I really had to do some talking to myself, to tell myself, `You’re not a failure, you’re just in this process of going from good to great.’”

Ryu opened this year feeling good about her game, and even better about it when she finished second in her season debut at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

“I definitely felt like a win was coming, that it was just a matter of time, but I didn’t want to push myself too much,” Ryu said.

McCormick’s work with Ryu has been as much about building confidence as it has been about building a swing.

“Results will almost always follow belief,” McCormick said. “What you believe to be true will almost always become true if it isn’t already true.”

So what Ryu believes about winning the ANA matters.

“It validated the first major,” McCormick said. “It validates all the hard work a player puts in, all the time you spend in the mind, so to speak, figuring out the infinitesimal gains in precision that are necessary to compete on the world stage.”

Ryu isn’t looking to validate yet another major now, but she would like to win a third so she can better share the story behind what it takes to win one.

 

LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

Parity reigned.

Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.


Vare Trophy
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.


CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.


LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.


Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.


Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

“Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

“Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

How did she evaluate her season?

“I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

“It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

“Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

“I think everybody has little ups and downs.”

For Ariya, Lexi, finish was fabulous, frustrating

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 12:47 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lexi Thompson can take a punch.

You have to give her that.

So can Ariya Jutanugarn, who beat Thompson in the gut-wrenching conclusion to the CME Group Tour Championship Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

They both distinguished themselves overcoming adversity this season.

The problem for Thompson now is that she’ll have to wait two months to show her resolve again. She will go into the long offseason with the memory of missing a 2-foot putt for par that could have won her the championship, her first Rolex Player of the Year Award and her first Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Thompson took home the CME Globe $1 million jackpot and Vare Trophy for low scoring as nice consolation prizes, but the Sunday finish was a lot like her season.

It was so close to being spectacular.

She was so close to dominating this year.

That last 2-foot putt Sunday would have put Thompson in the clubhouse at 15 under, with a one-shot lead, which would have added so much more pressure to Jutanugarn as she closed out.

Instead of needing to birdie the final two holes to force a playoff, Jutanugarn only needed to birdie one of them to assure extra holes. She went birdie-birdie anyway.

Thompson was on the practice putting green when she heard the day’s last roar, when Jutanugarn rolled in a 15-foot birdie to beat her.

“It wasn’t the way I wanted to end it,” Thompson said of the short miss. “I don’t really know what happened there. It just happens. I guess it’s golf.”


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


Thompson was asked if the weight of everything at stake affected her.

“No, honestly, I wasn’t thinking about it,” she said. “I putted great the whole day. I guess, maybe, there was just a little bit of adrenaline.

“We all go through situations we don’t like sometimes.”

Thompson endured more than she wanted this year.

She won twice, but there were six second-place finishes, including Sunday’s. There were three losses in playoffs.

There was the heart-wrenching blow at the ANA Inspiration, the season’s first major, when she looked as if she were going to run away with the title before getting blindsided by a four-shot penalty in the final round. There were two shots when a viewer email led to a penalty for mismarking her ball on a green in the third round, and two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Thompson was in tears finishing that Sunday at Mission Hills, but she won a legion of new fans in the way she fought back before losing in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

There was more heartache later in the spring, when Thompson’s mother, Judy, was diagnosed with uterine cancer, requiring surgery to remove a tumor and then radiation.

For Thompson fans, Sunday’s missed 2-foot putt was a cruel final blow to the year.

This time, there were no tears from Lexi afterward.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds . . . it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said. “This won’t either.”

After Thompson bounced back from the ANA loss to win the Kingsmill Invitational in May, she acknowledged how the loss motivated her.

“I'm as determined as any other person out here,” Thompson said. “We all want to win. I have a little bit more drive now.”

She was so close this year to elevating herself as the one true rock star in the women’s game. She will have a long offseason to turn Sunday’s disappointment into yet more fuel to get there.

Thompson will prepare for next year knowing Jutanugarn may be ramping her game back up to dominante, too.

Jutanugarn looked as if she were going to become a rock star after winning five times last year to claim the Rolex Player of the Year Award and then rising to No. 1 with a victory at the Manulife Classic back in May, but it didn’t happen.

Jutanugarn struggled through a summer-long slump.

She failed to make a cut in six of seven starts. It wasn’t as miserable a slump as she endured two years ago, when she missed 10 consecutive cuts, but it was troubling.

“Even though I played so badly the last few months, I learned a lot,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m growing up a lot, and I’m really ready to have some fun next year.”

Her surgically repaired shoulder was bothering her again, but it was more than that.

“This time it was more about becoming No. 1,” said Gary Gilchrist, her coach. “I think all of the responsibilities got to her.”

Gilchrist said he could see a different focus in Jutanugarn this week. He credited Vision 54s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott for helping her deal with all the pressure that has mounted with her growing status.

“It’s been a long process,” Nilsson said. “She’s felt too much expectation from everybody else, where she loses focus on what she can do.”

Marriott said they asked Jutanugarn to come up with something she wanted to do to make herself proud this week, instead of worrying about what would please everyone else.

It worked.

“I told my caddie, Les [Luark], that thinking about the No. 1 ranking wasn’t going to help me be a better golfer,” Jutanugarn said. “I wanted people to say, `Oh this girl, she’s really happy.’ That was my goal, to have fun.”

Late Sunday, hoisting the trophy, Jutanugarn looked like she was having a lot of fun.

Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.

The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.

Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.

The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.

Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.

Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.

Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.

A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.

With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.

And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?

“I have no idea,” he laughed.

Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.

The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.

The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.

“So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”

While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.

Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.

Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.

The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.

All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.

Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.

Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.