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

By Randall MellJune 28, 2017, 10:55 pm

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.

KPMG Women’s PGA Championship: Articles, photos and videos

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.”

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Suwannapura beats Lincicome in playoff for first win

By Associated PressJuly 15, 2018, 10:49 pm

SYLVANIA, Ohio - Thidapa Suwannapura won her first LPGA event on Sunday, closing with a 6-under 65 and birdieing the first playoff hole to defeat Brittany Lincicome at the Marathon Classic.

The 25-year-old Thai player is the sixth first-time winner on tour this year. Her previous best finish in 120 starts was seventh at the 2014 Kingsmill Championship.

Suwannapura picked up three strokes over her final two holes, making eagle on the par-5 17th and closing with a birdie on the par-5 18th at Highland Meadows to finish at 14-under 270.

In the playoff, Suwannapura converted a short birdie putt after Lincicome hit her second shot into a water hazard and scrambled for par.

Lincicome shot 67. She had a chance to win in regulation, but her birdie putt from about 10 feet did a nearly 360-degree turn around the edge of the cup and stayed out. Next up for the big-hitting Lincicome: a start against the men at the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship.

Third-round leader Brooke Henderson led by two shots after six holes, but struggled the rest of the way. Back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes dropped her out of the lead. The 20-year-old Canadian finished with a 2-under 69, one shot out of the playoff.

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Kim cruises to first win, final Open invite at Deere

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 9:38 pm

Following the best week of his professional career, Michael Kim is both a winner on the PGA Tour and the 156th and final player to earn a tee time next week at The Open.

Kim entered the final round of the John Deere Classic with a five-shot lead, and the former Cal standout removed any lingering doubt about the tournament's outcome with birdies on each of his first three holes. He cruised from there, shooting a bogey-free 66 to finish the week at 27 under and win by eight shots over Francesco Molinari, Joel Dahmen, Sam Ryder and Bronson Burgoon.

It equals the tournament scoring record and ties for the largest margin of victory on Tour this season, matching Dustin Johnson's eight-shot romp at Kapalua in January and Molinari's margin two weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National.

"Just super thankful," Kim said. "It's been a tough first half of the year. But to be able to finish it out in style like this means a lot."

Kim, 25, received the Haskins Award as the nation's top collegiate player back in 2013, but his ascent to the professional ranks has been slow. He had only one top-10 finish in 83 starts on Tour entering the week, tying for third at the Safeway Open in October 2016, and had missed the cut each of the last three weeks.

But the pieces all came together at TPC Deere Run, where Kim opened with 63 and held a three-shot lead after 36 holes. His advantage was trimmed to a single shot during a rain-delayed third round, but Kim returned to the course late Saturday and closed with four straight birdies on Nos. 15-18 to build a five-shot cushion and inch closer to his maiden victory.

As the top finisher among the top five not otherwise exempt, Kim earned the final spot at Carnoustie as part of the Open Qualifying Series. It will be his first major championship appearance since earning low amateur honors with a T-17 finish at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, and he is also now exempt for the PGA Championship and next year's Masters.

The last player to earn the final Open spot at the Deere and make the cut the following week was Brian Harman, who captured his first career win at TPC Deere Run in 2014 and went on to tie for 26th at Royal Liverpool.

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.