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No. 1 Ryu now faces the hard part - staying on top

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OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Tour pros try to prepare for any lie.

Gnarly lies, hanging lies, buried lies, half-submerged lies ...

They’re ready for most any challenge.

That’s the funny thing about what happens when they find themselves with the best lie of all, when they wake up to find they are No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Nothing really prepares them for that.

“It’s like getting married or having children,” Gary Gilchrist said. “You’re never really ready. It’s a shock, with all the responsibility that comes with it.”

Gilchrist, who has been coaching women for almost two decades, knows what he’s talking about.

On Feb. 20 of this year, Gilchrist woke up to find he was coaching the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 players in the Rolex rankings.

With Lydia Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn and Shanshan Feng holding the top spots, Gilchrist was the toast of women’s golf.

When Jutanugarn seized the No. 1 ranking from Ko two weeks ago, she became the third top-ranked player Gilchrist shepherded. He also guided Yani Tseng to No. 1.

“There’s no training to prepare a player to become No. 1,” Gilchrist said.

Welcome to the frontier, So Yeon Ryu.

With her victory Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, Ryu seized the No. 1 ranking from Jutanugarn, becoming the 11th player in the history of the Rolex rankings to ascend to the top spot.

Ryu might be the exception to the rule.

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Former world No. 1 Jiyai Shin believes Ryu is well-schooled for what lies ahead.

“I wasn’t prepared for it,” said Shin, who held the top ranking for 25 weeks in 2010. “It happened so fast, and it then it was, 'How do I handle it? How do I keep it?' Everything changed so quickly.

“I think it will be different for So Yeon. She’s been near the top of the rankings for so long. She is so experienced. She is so consistent, and she is so mentally positive.”

Ryu has been a fixture near the top of the world rankings. She has been among the top 10 for all but a handful of weeks for over last five years.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt Ryu that former world No. 1 Inbee Park is her best friend on tour.

Ryu was as close as you can get to serving an apprenticeship for the No. 1 ranking by being so close to Park through Park’s 92 weeks at world No. 1.

“I learned a lot of things through Inbee,” Ryu said. “When she was No. 1, she never changed. She never changed her behavior, like, 'I'm the No. 1.' She never really reacted like, 'I'm like the world's best player.' She was always a nice person. Whether she was playing well or not, she was always the same person. I learned more about how to be a great player watching how she reacted instead of what she said.”

Park was asked Wednesday what her friend’s greatest challenge will be.

“When I became No. 1, I kind of felt like I had to play like No. 1 every week, which you can't,” Park said. “That is actually not the truth. It is really a hard thing to follow up. You can't win every tournament. You can't finish top five every tournament. You've just got to lower your standards a little bit and just try to play your own game. And you just have to be yourself, instead of trying to listen to a lot of people.”

How long can Ryu reign at No. 1?

Ko ruled for 85 consecutive weeks before giving way to Jutanugarn two weeks ago.

Former world No. 1 Stacy Lewis admires Ryu’s game and temperament, but she believes the game’s increasing depth will make it more challenging for any new world No. 1.

“So Yeon is a great player, a great competitor,” Lewis said. “It’s not a surprise to see her No. 1. I think it was just a matter of time.”

But with the world rankings so tightly bunched at the top now, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if some big names play musical chairs with the top spot.

One year ago, Ko was a whopping 6.38 average world ranking points ahead of the world No. 2.

Today, just 1.68 average world ranking points separate the top five (No. 2 Jutanugarn, No. 3 Ko, No. 4 Lexi Thompson and No. 5 In Gee Chun). That’s the closest the top five have been bunched in seven years.

“I think the level of play now is as good as I've ever seen it,” Lewis said. “I just don't think you're going to see a player be a dominant No. 1. Everybody hits it far. Everybody hits the greens. Everybody putts it good. With technology right now, there's not a whole lot separating players, other than kind of what's up here, what's in the mind, what makes somebody just a little bit better. I think there's just going to continue to be that shuffle. Everybody is just that good.”

Ryu doesn’t know how the challenges will change her, but she has a plan.

“It will be interesting to see how long I can be the No. 1 player in the world,” Ryu said. “I don't know how long I can, but for sure I'm going to do my best to keep this position long as I can.”