Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu: The Road to Mastery Never Ends

Inbee Park is the No. 3 player in the world and So Yeon Ryu is No. 9. They are both Korean and share one other great distinction: their first wins on the LPGA Tour were the U.S. Women’s Open, Park in 2008 and Ryu in 2011.

And there was one more thing they have in common: counterintuitively, they both had a tough time with the game after their Open wins. You would think that such an accomplishment would make them think that they had arrived. But you’d be wrong; it made them think that they had just begun. 

They both sat down for interviews at the CME Group Titleholders this week at TwinEagles Club in Naples, Florida.

Park was a really interesting case, she was the youngest player ever to win the Women’s Open:

After all the junior years and amateur years that I’ve had, I thought I was going to be playing really good on the LPGA Tour and I was expecting a lot more from me, I think.  I think that was putting too much pressure on me, especially after U.S. Open.  I was expecting a lot more from me and I think that kind of hurt me for the last four years.

I’ve learned a lot the last four years about being a non-Top 10 player and not winning for four years.  I mean, that was a pretty tough times, but finally I’m here and this year my game’s got much improved than last four years, so just happy that I’m here in my position.

Apparently, her talent was evident early on. She began playing the game at 10 and her parents moved her to the U.S. when she was 12.

Yeah, I came to the United States when I was 12 years old and if I remember right, I think I won probably like — I think I was like five times All American in AJGA and I did Player of the Year at age of 13 and won the U.S. Junior at the age of 13 or 14.  I mean, I thought I was the best player as a junior golfer and I wasn’t afraid of anything; even the professional golfers I wasn’t afraid of.

As soon as I got on the professional tour, it was a lot different than what I thought and there was just a lot more great players than I thought.  Just still learning and I’ve learned a lot and still learning experience.

She joins a long line of amateur players who have underestimated the rich and deep talent of professional golfers, as I wrote in “People Have No Idea.”

But her parents had an ulterior motive for bringing Inbee to the U.S.

Well, I was on the Korean national team after I played like year and a half in Korea and I did that.  And in Korea it’s more like, it’s really serious, even more so.  I think it’s more of my parents’ decision that they decided to bring me to the United States because they wanted me to study and learn English and play golf at the same time, which is tough to do in Korea, so I think that’s why they started, yeah, to bring me here.

But after her U.S. Open win, her game went sideways…for four years. In hindsight and with the perspective of those four years on the Tour, she understands why:

I think just everything wasn’t ready.  I mean, my game, long game, my short game, my mental, everything wasn’t that ready, and I just won before I was ready.  That’s why I think I’ve been having a tough four years.  So I just try to — I never played golf for like nine, ten months, playing tournament golf for like nine, ten months in my lifetime.  So I think there was this process of getting used to the Tour, getting used to the traveling, and of course getting used to the culture in America. Everything just, yeah, I just needed time to get settled, I think, so I just tried to be patient.

It had to have been a shock to go from being a pretty good amateur player to the U.S. Open champion to someone lost in the wilderness. What did she think happened?

Yeah, I mean, I just tried to ask myself that question many times, you know, four years ago.  Just, you know, couldn’t figure out what was going wrong.  I think it was mostly just my mental that was just putting me off because, I mean, everything wasn’t ready, especially my mental wasn’t ready to handle all that kind of pressure at such a young age.  I think that was, yeah, the most difficult problem that I had to solve.

And where did that pressure come from?

Well, I think it was, you know, mostly from me, probably like 80 percent from me and maybe 20 percent from others like parents and probably from media.  But I think it’s got to be from me because I think to be able to play on the professional Tour, I think you have to be able to handle that kind of pressure.  So after winning Evian [in France in late July] and I felt kind of same way after winning U.S. Open because I hadn’t won for a long time, so after Evian I was able to handle that kind of pressure at this time, so I was really happy for myself, yeah.

And just as rewarding were her 12 Top 10s which included her second win of the year in Kuala Lumpur in mid-October. She had worried that it was going to be another four years:

I definitely worried about that after winning Evian.  I’m just very happy that I was able to do it, the thing that I couldn’t do before.  You know, I think that was the biggest accomplishment that I’ve done this year, I think, playing well after a win and playing — I mean winning after the win, winning for multiple times per year, I think that’s been the best achievement this year.

“I’m just very happy that I was able to do it, the thing I couldn’t do before.” Evidently, another transformational moment.

And almost the same thing happened to So Yeon Ryu.

Actually, really big thing is last year I won the U.S. Women’s Open so everybody expectation was so huge.  I felt some anxiety because everybody really focus on me, everybody expect other win.  But I couldn’t win any tournament after U.S. Women’s Open at the LPGA, even at the KLPGA, so I really wanted to make another win.  Then in Jamie Farr [the week after Park finally won] I shot 62 that I finally got my trophy and then I’m relieved.  I think after that my game is really consistent.  I made a lot of Top 10s [15 on the year, wow].  Actually, yeah, if I won the other tournament, that’s be more happy, but anyway, I’m really, really happy with my results so far.

But did she think that after her Open win things would come easier? No, and like Park, she had to struggle through her sense of herself.

No, no, you know, everyone is really, really tough, especially if you win the major tournament, everybody thought oh, you win major tournament, maybe another tournament is really easy to you.  But no, every tournament is really, really tough, especially LPGA players playing so great, playing so great.  I pretty surprised with LPGA players’ short game skill is really, really great.  So that’s why these days I’m more focused on my short game.  If my short game is improved, maybe I can make more winning, but still every tournament is really hard to make a win.

So there you have it, two U.S. Open winners who found out the hard way that the road to mastery never ends…and became masters in the process.

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