So Yeon Ryu, who, to beat the drum one more time, is the nicest person in golf, celebrated the 28th anniversary of her birth with a second consecutive 69 at Kemper Lakes, a golf course that has been long, wet, hot and difficult in the first two days of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The 6-under put Ryu atop the leaderboard deep into the second round, which should have surprised no one. Her ball-striking has been on an upswing, returning to the form she had the last two years, only longer, and her putting stroke looks better than ever. It would almost raise a few eyebrows if she wasn’t at or near the top this week.
For all the talk of Ariya Jutanugarn perhaps moving back atop the Rolex Rankings or Lexi Thompson breaking out of her slump and becoming a dominant performer, it is Ryu, currently No. 5 in the world, most likely to return to the top spot in the world. And this time, the 28-year-old should stay there.
Not only is she more comfortable with the spotlight, she has the most complete game on the LPGA Tour, a fact that isn’t yet showing up in the statistics. She’s currently 33rd on tour in driving distance, 84th in driving accuracy and 31st in greens in regulation. But you’ll see those numbers plummet. Ryu went through a rough ball-striking patch early in the year. But those who follow the women’s game put Ryu on a short list of elite swingers of the club. She’s the kind of player who makes the tee-to-green game look easy, almost boring.
“I think I started to get a little longer in 2016,” Ryu said after her the 69 on her birthday. “Then in ’17 I was definitely longer. And this year I started almost like a club longer with my irons. That’s definitely helped me play more aggressively. And playing more aggressively gave me a lot more birdie opportunities. So these days it’s really a matter of putting.”
Putting has historically been her weakness. In 2017, when Ryu won twice, including a major, captured the Rolex Annika Major Championship Award and was The Post’s Female Player of the Year, she was statistically the best ball-striker in the women’s game. Her proximity to the hole was jaw-dropping. But the birdies didn’t line up with how close she hit it.
Those putting struggles carried over into the early part of this year. When you’re ball-striking is a little off and you don’t have a putter to bail you out, you post only one top-10 from January through the middle of April. Marginal putting would have won the HUGEL-JTBC L.A. Open for her. And her 2-over-par performance at the U.S. Women’s Open was all on the greens. That week in Birmingham, Ryu had her hands lower than normal and came up and out of more putts than anyone could remember.
Hard work and a slight setup adjustment turned things around. She saw more putts go in the hole. And sometimes just seeing the ball disappear is all you need. Ryu’s first victory of 2018 at the Meijer LPGA Classic came two weeks ago. Now she’s leading another major.
“I really appreciate what I have right now with my long game,” she said. “I just need to have confidence on the greens. Right now I feel really great on the putting green. So all I need to do is keep that confidence.
“Every situation is different,” Ryu continued. “I keep saying to myself, ‘You’ve got this.’ It’s better to keep telling yourself how confident you are. When I won the Meijer Classic, that’s the attitude I had. And It’s the attitude that I hope to have for the rest of this year.
“It’s still only Friday so you never know what’s going to happen in the next two days. But I just want to have a positive attitude and I want to enjoy it.”