'Old' at 26? Ryu doesn't think so

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NAPLES, Fla. – So Yeon Ryu realized something this year.

She realized she isn’t that old at 26.

With so many young South Koreans hitting the LPGA, Ryu found herself cast as an aging veteran in her highly competitive homeland. She didn’t realize how much that was soaking into her own thinking until she watched India’s Ganganjeet Bhullar win the Korean PGA Tour’s Shinhan Donghae Open last month.

“He’s 26 years old, and the commentators were talking about how he is so young and he has a lot of time to improve,” Ryu said Thursday after opening the CME Group Tour Championship with a 67. “I told my mom, `You know, when Korean golf commentators talk about me, they talk about how at 26 I’m pretty old, but they’re calling this guy young. He’s the same age as me. So, Mom, what’s the difference between a man who’s 26 and a woman who’s 26?’

Ryu shrugged her shoulders outside scoring after Thursday’s round.

“I don’t know, maybe it’s a cultural thing,” she said.

Ryu played young at heart Thursday, moving one shot off the lead in the season finale. She burst onto the international scene with her U.S. Women’s Open victory at 21. She is looking to win her fourth LPGA title this week, her first since winning the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open two years ago.

Ryu is doing so with a new attitude.

“To be honest, if you look at Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn and Brooke Henderson, they are all very young players,” Ryu said. “So, for sure, sometimes I’ve felt like maybe I’m too old to compete with them. But then I look back, and Karrie Webb and Suzann Pettersen and Cristie Kerr had a lot of success after turning 30. So now, I just keep thinking, age is only a number.”

“So, I’m just trying to feel young again.”

Ryu is feeling younger with her new swing.

At the end of last year, disappointed with her poor play at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, Ryu told her caddie, Tom Watson, to find her a new coach.

Watson did a thorough search, looking for a coach to address the specific faults Ryu was struggling with, and he directed Ryu to Cameron McCormick, Jodan Spieth’s coach. After two lessons, Ryu committed. She completely tore apart her swing. She went to a flatter swing, with a lower ball flight, with better ability to work the ball. She said she also got longer, and she said she is becoming a crisper ball striker again.

Ryu endured some struggles to adjust at year’s start, but she has finished T-2, T-5 and T-3 in three of her last five starts. She committed so thoroughly to McCormick’s plan that she moved from her Los Angeles base to Dallas in May, to be closer to McCormick’s headquarters.

“I believed I needed to improve, to step up to a different level with my ball striking, to be a consistent winner,” Ryu said.