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Intangibles Distinguish Ryu

by Steve Eubanks - December 04, 2017

It was not a virtual tie, it was an actual one. For the first time in 51 years, the LPGA Player of the Year, an award that, unlike the PGA Tour’s, is based on points and not a popular vote, ended in a draw with So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park knotted at the top no matter how many decimals were counted.

It was hard for either player to grasp. On the 18th green at Tiburón Golf Club in Naples, Fla., after the last putt of the season fell and fans stirred in the grandstands waiting for all the trophies to be presented, Park, who also captured Rookie of the Year (becoming the first player since Nancy Lopez in 1978 to be both Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in the same season) looked like her dog had just died, while Ryu furrowed her brow and said, “I don’t know about this co-Players-of-the-Year thing.” But, like everyone else, they lacked an alternative.

Ryu and Park both won twice in 2017. Each won a major. Park had nine other top-10s. Ryu had 10 but missed a couple of cuts while Park’s worst finish was a tie for 43rd. Park finished first on the money list and Ryu finished second, a stat that’s a little misleading since Park won the tournament – the U.S. Women’s Open – with by far the largest purse of the year. Park’s low round of the season was a 62. Ryu shot a career-low 61. Park finished second in scoring average. Ryu finished sixth but was statistically the best ballstriker on tour for most of the year. And both spent time as the No. 1 player in the world.

Crunch all those numbers and you come up with a tie. It’s not like they separated themselves from the field, either. Had Lexi Thompson made a 2-foot putt on her final hole at the CME Group Tour Championship, Ryu and Park wouldn’t be in the conversation. Thompson was 24 painful inches from wrapping up Player of the Year and the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Rankings to go with the Vare Trophy and $1 million Race to the CME Globe that she won.

Parity is now par for the course. The LPGA Tour went 16 events before its first multiple winner, a streak that hadn’t been matched since 1991. That first multiple winner was Ryu. Others followed. Anna Nordqvist won a major and one other event. I.K. Kim won three times including a major. Shanshan Feng won three times and led the U.S. Women’s Open until the final nine holes, while Thompson, Cristie Kerr, Brooke Henderson and Ariya Jutanugarn all won twice. The only thing missing from 2017 was a dominant player.

So, the choice becomes subjective, a decision based on feel and instinct rather than stats and an algorithm. And while the choice was still close, Global Golf Post’s female Player of the Year is So Yeon Ryu.

So Yeon on So Yeon
If I look back on the whole year, I think Ive overdone it. My goal was actually, Just win the tournament, win the tournament. Even if Im going to win one tournament Im going to be so happy.
I won twice, I became No. 1, I felt like I achieved a lot of things. Im really thankful about this season and I really feel like Ive grown up a lot through this season, so Im ready to have a rest.

The reason is simple: Fortitude. Guts. The core that burns its hottest in hard times. Ryu has it and it separated her in 2017.

She wasn’t supposed to win the ANA Inspiration. That one was Thompson’s before the controversial four-shot penalty that set the golf world on its ear. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that amid all the hullabaloo, Ryu birdied the 18th hole in regulation and again in a playoff while the gallery chanted “Le-xi, Le-xi.” It takes a strong constitution to hit a deft chip from a tight lie to 5 feet in that environment and then roll in the putt with the whole world rooting against you.

Ryu played no role in Thompson’s penalty. She felt as much empathy for Thompson as anyone. Maybe more. Ryu is a woman of strong faith who believes her life should model “love-your-neighbor” humility. But she and Thompson – both of whom have worked long, tiring hours to overcome shaky strokes – had putts to win. One made it. The other did not.

There were other examples. After missing her first cut of the year, Ryu charged back in her next start, shooting 65-61-69 in Arkansas to not only become the tour’s first multiple winner but also capture the No. 1 spot in the world, a position she held for 19 weeks, throughout the major-championship season.

LPGA Tour Wins
Event Score To Par
ANA Inspirate 68-69-69-68274 -14
Walmart NW ARKANSAS Championship 65-61-69195 -18

That’s another differentiator. The No. 1 ranking is a heavy yoke. Ryu didn’t have her best stuff late in the summer. But many times, when it looked as though she would lose the top spot, she gutted out a good score and remained No. 1. And while she caught a good break with the Thompson ruling in the desert, she caught an awful one at the Evian Championship. Ryu was leading the tournament in the opening round while Park was 6-over par through five holes. Then September rains came, as they do in that part of France. The round was canceled and the scoreboard wiped clean.

Still, Ryu won the Rolex Annika Major Award for the season’s most outstanding major championship record. She posted two more top-10s in Asia before injuring her shoulder in Malaysia.

In Money
Top 3s
Top 10s
Stroke Average

Which brings up the final moment of clarity behind this choice. At the season-ending event in Naples, Ryu didn’t play a single practice round and hit no more than a handful of shots on the range. Every swing felt like a toothache in her right shoulder. But with so much on the line, she gutted out a 5-under-par finish. “If it wasn’t for Player of the Year, I would have withdrawn,” she said afterward.

That is why she is The Post’s choice. Statistically, you could make a case for Ryu, Park or Thompson and have plenty of support. But if the three of them were tied in the final round of a major, the kind of pressure-cooker where intangibles carry the day, Ryu would be the pick. Just as she is our pick now.

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