So Yeon Ryu settles into a luxurious leather-based chair at a convention room desk contained in the clubhouse at Mission Hills Golf Membership. She is exhibiting no indicators of jetlag, regardless of being recent off a 13-hour flight from Korea. Decked out in a her event apparel, and greeting the room with a vibrant smile, she is greater than prepared. That is the easy vitality that makes her dominant on the golf course and able to step up as golf’s subsequent transcendent celebrity.
For sure, it’s laborious sufficient to make it as a professional golfer. Spend a Saturday morning attempting to maintain that little white ball on the golf green, and also you’ll have some understanding as to what it takes. Now consider attempting to make it as a lady in a sport and a rustic the place males have each benefit. Nonetheless, it’s by golf that Korean ladies have risen to prominence on a global degree.
But for So Yeon, golf seemingly discovered her.
“I’m distinctive a case as a result of I selected golf due to my good friend,” she remembers. “Lots of golfers (in Korea) began to play golf due to their dad and mom. I might say 95 p.c golfers get into the sport that method.”
She first swung a membership within the second grade, however on the time she was consumed by a unique instrument. Because the sports activities cliche goes of athletes eager to be musicians, So Yeon wasn’t scribbling lyrics. As an alternative, she was prodigious with a violin, the flute and piano.
As is commonly the case, after spending increasingly time on the course, what began as a passing interest quickly turned an obsession. What clicked for her was the sensory overload of the game. In Korea, many programs are set on lush grass, whereas bushes line fairways, with mountains within the background. Certain, 18 holes for many of us are removed from stress-free, however with So Yeon’s pure skill, it turned a younger lady’s sanctuary — in addition to a spot of triumph.
Success got here, and got here shortly.
At 14, she made the Korean nationwide group and performed there for just a few years. Then in 2006, she gained gold on the Asian video games. From there she went professional on the age of 17, becoming a member of Korean LPGA. In her first occasion, the Sports activities Seoul Open, she got here out with a win.
Instant success was removed from simple for So Yeon to cope with. Korea has had a pipeline of profitable gamers on the LGPA, and paired with the meteoric rise of an adolescent, and with all eyes of the nation upon her, expectations have been at a virtually not possible degree.
“It was actually powerful,” she says. “I simply couldn’t deal with every part as knowledgeable golfer. Although you’re 17 — due to that, I practically simply stopped enjoying golf.”
As an alternative, she discovered stability on an excellent bigger stage, taking her abilities to the US on tour with the LPGA.
“Since I began to play within the U.S., I simply actually loved enjoying golf, greater than earlier than,” So Yeon says.
The transfer labored. Immediately. Simply after her 21st birthday, Se Yeon gained the U.S. Girls’s Open in 2011. Following a full season on tour in 2012, she was named Rookie of the Yr.
“It was the cultural distinction as nicely,” she says, “I really feel like I’m simply born extra like western, as a substitute of Asian.”
Nonetheless, as settled in on the LPGA tour as she was, the transition to dwelling the States for a Korean lady in her early 20s was not with out an ungainly part. Fortunately, she had different gamers from her nation who supplied a result in comply with.
“Grace Park was my idol,” she says with a smile. “In fact I beloved the way in which she performed golf, however I beloved her trend. I beloved her confidence. She was one thing particular. Due to that, I all the time dreamed of the LPGA.”
Based mostly in Los Angeles, and adjusting to a brand new tradition, Se Yeon was again on monitor quickly sufficient. Final yr, she gained her second main, the ANA Inspiration, in dramatic trend on a sudden dying playoff. Caught up within the second, she took a web page out of her hero Park’s guide, and jumped into Poppie’s Pond.
There’s that second-grader at play once more.
Now how in regards to the concept of the subsequent wave of Korean phenoms who see her as a task mannequin?
“I simply really feel like I’m not the one but,” she admits. “I nonetheless look as much as so many position fashions. I hope I can characterize this sport nicely.”
Prepared or not, So Yeon has arrived and has the makings not simply superstardom on the golf course, however crossover attraction to the identical extent as Michelle Wie, Lindsey Vonn and Maria Sharapova. And for many who have to be bought on ladies’s golf, So Yeon sees a facet of the LPGA that the lads’s sport lacks. It’s relatable.
“I feel our sport is extra comparable as amatuer golfers,” she factors out. “They’ll be taught extra from us and connect with it.”
For So Yeon the connection got here instantly, whereas her skill matched her enthusiasm. She has the adoration of her house nation behind her, and now, the swagger to carry out underneath a microscope. With the highlight of a world’s stage shining on her, she’s placing on one hell of a present.
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