KILDEER, ILLINOIS | Fear is a crippling, often paralyzing emotion. You leave the house, drive halfway to the office and turn around in a panic, convinced that you’ve left the stove on or forgotten to lock the garage, even though you have a clear memory of doing what you fear you did not. Logic doesn’t matter. Facts are irrelevant. Once you are in the grips of fear, it consumes you.
So Yeon Ryu, who, in addition to being a gem of a human being is arguably the best player in the world at the moment, hadn’t been putting well. At the U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek, she putted poorly by professional standards and at Wilshire Country Club at the HUGEL-JTBC L.A. Open she finished fourth where an average putting week would have put her in the winner’s circle.
After Birmingham, Ryu had a conversation with her coach, Cameron McCormick, about her putting.
“It could sound really awkward,” Ryu said. “But I told him, ‘I’m so nervous putting.’ He was like, ‘So Yeon, what, other than golf, makes you nervous.’”
The answer was: roller coasters. In addition to a fear of being out of control, Ryu hates heights.
“He was like, ‘You’ve got to go,’” she said. “So, after the U.S. Women’s Open I actually went to Six Flags in Dallas. Well, I wasn’t going to go but I told my sister. Then my sister, (Somyung) was in Dallas with me for a week and she was like, ‘we’ve got to go.’
“So she bought the tickets. I went (to Six Flags) on Wednesday after the U.S. Women’s Open, and oh, my God, I don’t want to do it again. I was really afraid. I hate heights. We went up maybe 50 meters up and then (the cars) were swinging and I was like, ‘oh, my God, I cannot do this.’ I was actually pretty sick after that.
“Maybe that helped because I won the Meijer Classic right after that week,” she said. “My sister was like, maybe Six Flags worked. And I was like, ‘oh, my God, Cam knew it.’
It’s not your typical teaching aid but facing your fears is one of the oldest psychological tools in the books. Ryu no longer fears the slippery downhiller. In fact, she made one 5- to 8-footer after another in her third round 67 to open a three-shot lead over Brooke Henderson with one round to go.
Should she win, Ryu will likely be the No.1 player in the world rankings. And sports psychologists around the world will be buying tickets to Six Flags.