EVIAN-LES-BAINS, FRANCE | So Yeon Ryu has the one thing every golfer covets. Not precision ballstriking, although she is still the best in the women’s game on that front. Not lag putting, even though during the 67 she shot in Thursday’s opening round of the Evian Championship, she hit almost every putt the correct speed. And not a great wedge game, although she has become more old-school imaginative on that front with each passing week.
What Ryu has is the ability to forget the past within seconds and never let the future enter her mind. She is the epitome of the “in-the-moment” golfer, the player who can direct all her mental and physical energy toward the shot at hand no matter where she stands on the leaderboard or what’s going on around her.
“I say this quite often: I focus on what I can control and not on what I cannot control,” Ryu told me immediately after her round at the Evian Resort Golf Club.
Having that ability is important because a lot of things have fallen outside her control in the last couple of seasons. At Evian a year ago, she was leading through the front nine on Thursday when the rains came. By the end of the day, all that hard work vanished as the entire opening round was scrapped.
“That was a situation where I couldn’t control anything,” she said. “Of course I was a little mad about it (at the time) but if I had continued to dwell on it, I wouldn’t have been able to play well.”
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She put aside the distractions at the 2017 ANA Inspiration that accompanied Lexi Thompson’s four-stroke penalty in the final round and hit a spectacular 5-wood in the sudden-death playoff to set up a birdie to beat Thompson.
And she tossed away all memory of hitting her tee shot in the water on the 17th hole at this year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Ryu came back from that crushing blow to birdie the last and then birdie the first hole of the ensuing playoff. It took three birdies in a row from Sung Hyun Park to beat her.
On Sunday of the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, she made an early triple bogey to seemingly shoot herself out of contention but clawed back to finish alone in third.
The list could go on.
She actually could have been leading in Evian on Thursday night but for a nasty three-putt on the par-3 eighth, where she rolled a 50-footer the proper speed and then hit a good putt from 4 feet that caught the left side of the hole and did more than a complete 360 before staying above ground. Then she hit what looked like the perfect putt on 17 that died right on the front edge.
“I know that when my speed control is really great I can putt well,” she said. “But when it’s off, that’s when I really struggle. I really wanted to make sure I got the speed right so that all the hard work I’ve put into it paid off.”
On her final hole of the day Ryu made a rare ballstriking error, a pulled tee shot that caught a tree and landed in the rough. She had to lay up to the water in front of the difficult par-4 and hit a good wedge and a good putt but failed to make par.
“That wasn’t a great tee shot on the last hole,” she said. “But I’m human so that’s going to happen. Hopefully it will be the last mis-hit of the week.”
If that is, indeed, her last mis-hit, Ryu will be the hands-down favorite to win. If she does, she will become the first player to repeat as the Rolex Annika Major Award winner. And she will move one step closer to her goal of capturing the career Grand Slam.
But rest assured, none of that will enter her mind once she steps inside the ropes.
“Definitely the attitude is to focus on the present, not the past or the future,” she said. “I think that’s the key to enjoying this game.”