SO YEON RYU HAD 145 YARDS TO THE FLAG!

Stand­ing in the mid­dle of the fair­way on the 399-yard par-4 4th (nor­mally the 5th) at the Kings­barns links dur­ing her fi­nal prac­tice round for this year’s Ri­coh Women’s Bri­tish Open, So Yeon Ryu had 145-yards to the flag. The pre­vail­ing west wind hav­ing t

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Find out about So Yeon Ryu - the women's num­ber 1 ranked player.

“I was in con­tention a lot of weeks but not win­ning very of­ten,” says Ryu. “So my mo­ti­va­tion to get bet­ter was driven by my de­sire to win more tour­na­ments. If I did that, things like get­ting to num­ber-one would take care of them­selves.

Ryu's cad­die, the im­mor­tally named Tom Wat­son, nod­ded in ap­pre­ci­a­tion, know­ing full well that his boss, world num­berone since victory in the Wal­mart NW Arkansas Cham­pi­onship on June 25, would not have been able to hit that same shot only two years ago.

In­deed, Ryu’s cur­rent game should carry a “made in Aus­tralia” stamp. Along­side Wat­son, for­mer Euro­pean Tour player Mike Clay­ton, for­mer Open cham­pion Ian Baker-Finch and swing coach Cameron McCormick - the man be­hind Open cham­pion Jor­dan Spi­eth’s swing - have all con­trib­uted greatly to the trans­for­ma­tion in the five-time LPGA win­ner’s for­tunes.

It started with Wat­son and Clay­ton though. Aware of Ryu’s frus­tra­tion at hang­ing around num­ber four or five in the world but never go­ing higher, the pair “au­di­tioned” a few coaches be­fore ar­riv­ing at the con­clu­sion McCormick was the man who could make a dif­fer­ence to her swing, one prone to hit­ting overly-high shots lack­ing in pen­e­tra­tion.

“I was in con­tention a lot of weeks but not win­ning very of­ten,” says Ryu. “So my mo­ti­va­tion to get bet­ter was driven by my de­sire to win more tour­na­ments. If I did that, things like get­ting to num­ber-one would take care of them­selves.

“Cameron has helped me enor­mously with my swing. I now have a much bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what I am try­ing to do, to the point where I can of­ten fix my swing in the mid­dle of a round. Not al­ways, of course. But even when I can’t, I now know what I am do­ing wrong. And that is the al­ways the first step to fix­ing some­thing. I don’t have to rely on him to­tally.

“My first les­son with him started with a 20-minute talk. It was that long be­fore I hit a shot. Then he just watched me for a bit. He didn’t say much un­til l hit a few. Be­cause I had the club­face so open, I needed to square up the face. And of course, to me, neu­tral or square felt shut at first.

“Now, how­ever, I can hit so many more shots. I can flight the ball so much bet­ter, es­pe­cially when the wind is blow­ing. My un­der­stand­ing of my swing has gone from eight-out-of-ten to nine. I know what I am do­ing now.”

That un­der­stand­ing and knowl­edge has spread to other as­pects of the Ryu game too.

“Down the stretch she al­ways had trou­ble un­der­stand­ing the ef­fects of adren­a­line,” says Wat­son. “And back-left pins were a prob­lem. She would try to hit cut shots to those. Which made no sense. But now she gets it. She aims for the mid­dle of the greens and hits a draw in there. With­out think­ing about it. Be­cause she now knows her swing so well, ev­ery­thing is au­to­matic for her un­der pres­sure.

“Her strat­egy is so much bet­ter. She knows her strengths and weak­nesses and plays ac­cord­ingly. For ex­am­ple, on right-to-left holes she now hits a lot of 3-woods off the tee be­cause she knows it is eas­ier to hit draws with that club than with a driver.”

Such is the im­prove­ment in Ryu's tech­nique, work­ing the ball in ei­ther di­rec­tion is now some­thing she is en­tirely com­fort­able ‘tak­ing on.'

“Tommy has been a big help in my cre­ativ­ity on the course,” she says. “When he first started work­ing for me I would al­ways chip-out when I was in trou­ble. He would ask me why I wasn't try­ing some­thing a bit more imag­i­na­tive. He wanted me to cut or draw the ball around trees. But I had no idea what he was talk­ing about.

“Clayts was a big help with that too. He en­cour­aged me to try things, shots I have never con­sid­ered be­fore. He ed­u­cated me. And he was very di­rect. He was very frus­trated with me at first. But now I am open to more options. Be­cause I know I can hit some dif­fer­ent shots. That helped me at Kings­barns. In a nor­mal week I know I can hit my 7-iron 150-yards. But there I used it from 110 or 120. Which was so much fun.”

Still, for all her un­doubted ex­per­tise and in­creased ver­sa­til­ity tee-to-green, it is with the put­ter in her hands that Ryu has seen the big­gest im­prove­ment.

“So Yeon was way too me­chan­i­cal, es­pe­cially with her putting,” says Wat­son. “She was like a robot. When she prac­tised, her putting she would prac­tice an ex­act length of putt. I never un­der­stood that. On the course every putt is dif­fer­ent, so why prac­tice the same thing all the time?

“It took a while to con­vince her. But Finchy re­ally helped. First time he saw her, he had her putting with her eyes closed, to work on her feel of dis­tance. That blew her mind be­cause it was so di­vorced from how she thought of putting.”

No sur­prise there. Ryu's prob­lems get­ting the ball into the hole were more, by her own ad­mis­sion, more men­tal than phys­i­cal.

“I knew my putting was the weak­est part of my game,” she con­firms. “I needed to im­prove on the greens - or at least have more con­fi­dence in my abil­ity - if I was to win more. Be­fore, I would get very ner­vous over putts when I was in con­tention. My stroke was okay, but be­cause I was miss­ing so much I was think­ing I was a bad put­ter. And when you think that you miss even more.

“Finchy taught me to en­joy putting and to en­joy my prac­tice. He has given me some drills, lit­tle games that give me a tar­get, some­thing to achieve. He has made it fun. I have a sense of ac­com­plish­ment when I achieve my goal. So I leave the prac­tice green feel­ing good about my­self. I leave on a pos­i­tive note.”

One thing hasn't changed though. Okay, maybe slightly.

“I am still a per­fec­tion­ist, but not so much as I used to be,” says Ryu with a smile.

“I am kin­der to my­self when I hit five-yards wide of my tar­get.”

↑ So Yeon Ryu of Korea tees off on the 8th hole dur­ing the first round of the Ri­coh Women's Bri­tish Open.

Cameron McCormick.

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