Rising To The Occasion

Yesterday’s post was about the two great rounds Hee Kyung Seo put together on Sunday to lead the U.S Women’s Open at the Broadmore in Colorado Springs. Two 3-under 68’s were just so solid in the face of everyone else falling back. As they blew the horn at dark, Seo was in the clubhouse with a 1-shot lead.

There were only three players who had a chance to catch her Monday morning and the closest one, So Yeon Ryu, made a clutch birdie on 18 to do just that. Seo began to warm up as the rest of the field finished.

The USGA did a good job of having them both on the 16th tee waiting for that last scorecard to be signed even though it was impossible for any of them to catch her: the playoff can’t begin until regulation play is completed. It’s a matter of respect to those trying to get as good a finish as they still can.

Seo won the blind draw on the tee and off they went to two nice opening pars.

What was so refreshing about this whole little slice of time was the interaction between the two. They were both friends having known each other from the Korean LPGA. So when Ryu arrived at the range after signing a few autographs and pleasantly posing for at least one picture, Seo was busily carving divots. Their eyes met, Ryu broke into a radiant smile and gave her a deep, polite bow. It was an act of both friendship and respect at the same time.

The other thing that was refreshing about both of them, even before the playoff, was that they were no longer the caricatures of the stoic Korean culture that has haunted the LPGA Tour over the last several years. They were both demonstrably appreciative of the gallery applause. They smiled radiant smiles and actually raised their hands in acknowledging waves…a lot.

And so, as the playoff unfolded, these were two serious competitors trying to win the U.S. Open at the same time that they were smiling, considerate friends, at the same time that they displayed two of the most esthetically pleasing swings on the LPGA Tour. It was the culmination of the everything the Tour had been hoping for in terms of integrating the Asians into the American culture. You could not help but be warmed by these two exemplary representatives of professional golf. This is what the people have wanted!

Seo hit her drive up against the lip in the fairway bunker on the par 5 17th. Her forced little pitch-out led to a bogey; Ryu hit it close in three and made the short putt for birdie. That gave her a solid, 2-shot lead with just the 18th to play. And then she birdied that one for good measure too. It was a fine display of championship golf at its best. And when the putt dropped, she demurely clasped her hands at her lap in a fleeting, grateful prayer.

The greenside interviews, first with Seo and then the champion, Ryu, were pleasantly surprising bordering on shocking. They both spoke idiomatic English (albeit in a heavy accent) that made it obvious that they not only understood the questions, but could ponder them and reply with complex answers. And they both did it with the aforementioned radiant smiles. Oh, how long has the Tour been waiting for such a day! If these two are any indication of the hard work the other Asians are putting in on the integration issue, it just might be that the heavy lifting is done.

So congratulations to So Yeon Ryu for her impressive victory and to Hee Kyung Seo for accomplishing her personal goal too. Bursting with pride in her interview, she said that she was just trying to finally trust herself, “And I did.” She also had a more tangible goal of getting a top 10 finish so that she would be exempt in next year’s Open. She certainly broke through that barrier.

On a more amusing note, I posted yesterday’s post Sunday night so that you East coasters would have it available first thing in case you had to record Monday’s finish before you went to work.

In the post, I had revealed Seo’s nickname, the Supermodel of the Fairways, and that she had a clothing line. Well….when we West coasters got up yesterday morning, I had more hits on that post and my landing page by far than any other post I had ever done. And virtually every one of them were attempts to find out more about Seo’s clothing line and where it could be bought.

A couple hours of research revealed that her line is part of the Bean Pole Golf collection which is a subsidiary of the giant Korean company, Samsung. You can Google their website but you will find that it is substantially in Korean. That’s because calls to four high-end women’s golf apparel retailers revealed that Bean Pole Golf isn’t in the U.S. yet. The typical way that happens is by them finding a U.S. distributor at the PGA Merchandise Show and these four retailers said that hadn’t happened yet.

It can’t be too long now.

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