Through discipline and hard work, Korean players have become a dominant force in the women’s game, but So Yeon Ryu is also intent on seeing another side of life.


Through discipline and hard work, Korean players have become a dominant force in the women’s game, but So Yeon Ryu is also intent on seeing another side of life.

By Lewine Mair

So Yeon Ryu is a name which could be tripping off the tongue by the end of this season.

From having started out on the LPGA as a pretty one-dimensional Korean golfer, this winner of the 2011 US Open has now reached the point where she sees herself as the well-rounded person and player she always wanted to be. She may not have won on the LPGA Tour since 2014 but her last three tournaments of 2016 - she finished third and fifth and second - had her signing off from the season wishing that there was nothing in the way of a Christmas break.

“This is the first time I feel like I wish I could play more tournaments,” was what she said after losing out to Charley Hull in the end-of-year CME event.

“Finally, I feel I am completely ready to win. I may not have beaten Charley but it was still a great result.''

People could tell from her smile that So Yeon knew she was sounding ‘over-the-top’ confident. However, she wanted to make it plain that she was not issuing this litany of positives entirely off her own bat. Her caddie, who is famously named Tom Watson, had been telling her that that was precisely how she should be feeling. “He always gives me the ‘So Yeon, you’re great, even if you didn’t quite make that putt.”

On a regular day, So Yeon is more interested in talking about the rest of her life - and what she discovered when she began to look at Korean golfers as if she herself was an outsider. First and foremost, she started examining where they were successful - and sometimes not so successful - and has since gone public with findings which will give food for thought to rather more than merely her compatriots.


Far from believing that the South Korean women’s stack of majors is all down to endless hours on the practice range, this winner of 3 LPGA titles refers instead to what happens in Koreans’ earliest years.

“As babies,” she explained, “Koreans are encouraged to keep their emotions in check; crying and noisy scenes are not condoned. Though our culture is not too different from the Western culture in emphasising the need to be happy, we put still more of an emphasis on respecting others. Parents are embarrassed if their child starts to bawl in public and the child, in turn, learns to keep himself or herself under control. This, of course, is a huge asset when it comes to the pressures of tournament golf.”

The 26-year-old Ryu moved on to discuss the other side of the coin; to an area where a Korean upbringing serves a player altogether less well.

“Up until the age of 19,” she says, “Koreans usually do everything their parents tell them to do - so much so that they have no idea how to be independent when they start on tour. If they don’t have their parents with them they have trouble managing themselves.''

Se Re Pak, a winner of five majors, was the first to make an honest assessment of the Korean way of golf, albeit only after she had suffered a breakdown. She started telling those who followed in her footsteps,

“If you are 100% focused on your golf, make sure that you are 100% focused on being relaxed when you are not on the course, That way you will play better.”

When this correspondent suggested to Se Ri that the girls’ parents would not thank her for what she was saying, she agreed. “It is difficult because some of them won’t understand but they are learning at the same time as the players are learning.”

In truth, everyone is learning from everyone at the moment, with such as Pak and Ryu adding to the process by furnishing as rich an insight as any into the Koreans’ golfing journey.

This is an extract from the latest Women & Golf magazine, out February 10. Never miss an issue, SUBSCRIBE HERE to Women & Golf.