So Yeon also played in the 2007 US Women's
Amateur, but though she was 4th in the stroke play section,
she was eliminated in the first round of match play.
In late 2007, at 17 years of age, Ryu turned
pro. In February of 2008, she played in a professional event
on the minor league Cactus Tour and won by six shots. She
then joined the KLPGA tour and made an immediate impact. How
immediate? She won the very first event she played in 2008,
the Sports Seoul Open, with her arch rookie rival Choi finishing
second, four shots back. She didn't play quite that well the
next few events, however.
But when Ryu returned to contending, she did
it with a bang. At the Korean Women's Open, the most important
event of the year, Ryu found herself in a dogfight for the
title with KLPGA superstar Ji Yai Shin. Going into the final
nine, Ryu had carved out a four shot lead. But Shin was relentless,
and by the 17th hole had caught the rookie star. Ryu eventually
lost a three hole playoff to Shin. It was a bitter disappointment,
but still a second place finish at a Major, hardly a bad result.
The loss started a string of nine straight
top tens, including two more seconds and a third. Hye Yong
Choi had several second place finishes herself during that
span, but Ryu maintained her lead in the Rookie of the Year
race. When Choi finally won her first event, the LotteMart
Ladies Open, ironically it was Ryu who finished second.
As the year wound on, however, Choi continued
to play well, while Ryu faded somewhat. A pivotal moment came
at the year's third Major, the 4th KB Star Tour Event. Ryu
was playing well when she made an illegal drop from a bunker
and was disqualified. Choi, meanwhile, charged from behind,
eventually losing a playoff to Shin. Her second place finish
allowed her to pass Ryu in the Rookie standings.
Ryu and Choi both played well at the Saint
Four Ladies Masters, an event co-sanctioned by the Ladies
European Tour. Ryu wound up losing the Rookie of the Year
title to Choi, although she had a chance until the final event
to win it.
In December, Ryu was one of five top stars
who appeared in a dance number (!) at the KLPGA Awards show.
Ryu started her 2009 season with a bang by
finishing tied for 2nd at the ANZ Ladies Masters, her best
showing outside of Korea since turning pro. She missed the
cut at her first LPGA event played in the States, the JGolf
event in Phoenix, but that proved to be only a momentary blip
in a great year.
The start of the KLPGA season was dominated
by Hee Kyung Seo, who won the first Major of the year. But
Ryu kicked her season into high gear at the Doosan Match Play
Championship. She gradually worked her way through the field,
winning three sudden death playoffs on the way to the finals.
Once there, she faced her arch rival He Yong Choi in a match
for the ages. Tied after 18 holes, they played 9 more sudden
death holes before Ryu finally captured the win, 7 hours and
11 minutes after they started. No one worked harder in 2009
to get a win than that.
The win sparked Ryu to brilliant heights.
Just two events later, she won again, then racked up two more
straight wins to become one of the few in KLPGA history to
score three straight victories. She took over the money list
and Player of the Year lead from Seo, and the two would spend
much of the rest of the year duking it out for those titles.
Seo finally secured the title when Ryu lost a playoff at the
penultimate event of the year. But Ryu still made nearly 600
million won and finished second on the money list, second
in Player of the Year points and third in scoring average.
Without any question, in 2009 Ryu established herself as a
In December, Ryu and Seo clashed again at
the China Ladies Open, the first event of the 2010 season.
Seo led going into the final round, but Ryu caught her and
forced a playoff, winning after three holes. Amazingly, it
was Ryu's last win on the KLPGA tour that season. She had
several great chances to win during the year, but something
always happened to short circuit her. Sometimes she would
have a few bad holes at the wrong time, other times another
player suddenly got hot and overtook her. But though she would
not be the Player of the Year in 2010, she did have great
results anyway: she made nearly 400 million won and finished
4th on the money list. Overall she had 14 top tens, which
included an agonizing three seconds. She also had her first
professional missed cut, and a total of 5 finishes outside
the top twenty during the season.
Ryu got off to a strong start in the 2011
season. In the very first KLPGA event of the year, the 2010
China Ladies Open, she was in contention right until the end,
but carded yet another second, losing to Hye Youn Kim. But
after that start, she found herself struggling to make top
tens for the next few months. At the Lotte Cantata Open, she
was four shots back after two rounds, and it did not look
like she would be a factor in the outcome. But she blitzed
the field in the final round with a sizzling 64 to cruise
to her first win in a year and a half.
As great as that result felt, it paled before
what happened to Ryu early in July in Colorado Springs, CO.
She was playing in the US Women's Open thanks to her top five
finish on the KLPGA tour the previous year. After two rounds,
she was in decent position. Rain had caused numerous delays,
and she was forced to play nearly two full rounds on Sunday.
By the end of the day, thanks to her brilliant play, she found
herself a shot out of the lead with three holes to play. The
leader? None other than her old rival Hee Kyung Seo, who was
a rookie on the LPGA tour that season.
On Monday morning, Ryu had three holes to
try to catch Seo and win the Major. She scrambled to an up
and down on the 16th hole. On the par 5 17th, she had a great
birdie chance, but burned the edge on her putt. That left
her just one more chance to catch Seo. On the 18th hole, she
hit a great drive, then a superlative iron that rolled to
five feet. The putt was a tricky one, but she nailed it, forcing
the three hole aggregate playoff with her friend. It was the
first time ever that a Major featured a playoff between Koreans.
In the extra holes, Ryu played the same three
holes she had just completed and dominated Seo. After both
made par on 16, Ryu made birdie on 17 while Seo bogied. Then
Ryu hit her approach on 18 even closer than she had an hour
earlier, making a third birdie in the six holes she had played
on this day to beat Seo by three shots. Ryu became the third
youngest woman to ever win the title, behind Se Ri Pak and
Inbee Park. She also became only the second Korean to win
membership on the LPGA tour by capturing a Major (Jiyai Shin
had been the first), and the first Korean to win that membership
at the US Women's Open, the biggest women's golf event in
Ryu decided she would join the LPGA in 2012,
but there was still unfinished business in Korea. She still
had yet to win a Major over there, and also wanted to finish
atop the money list. But though she led the money list much
of the season, she was not able to reach that goal, finishing
third behind Ha Neul Kim. She also came up short at the Majors;
her best finish there was a third place at the KLPGA Championship.
But regardless of that, Ryu's 2011 had been a brilliant breakthrough
for her. She finished the year with a tie for second at an
Invitational event in Taiwan that featured many of the top
golfers in the world (she was tied with Jiyai Shin and ahead
of Na Yeon Choi).
Ryu's 2012 was brilliant from start to finish.
Even before she played on the LPGA, she shot a 61 at the RACV
Australian Ladies Masters en route to a second place finish.
In her very first LPGA event (the Australian Women's Open),
she had a four foot putt to win, but missed it and lost in
a playoff. Over the next few tournaments, she added three
more 4th place finishes and a 5th. Before even the second
Major had been played, Ryu was already dominating the Rookie
of the Year race.
In all, So Yeon racked up an impressive 16
LPGA top ten finishes in 2012, 12 of which were top fives.
It was one of the most impressively consistent rookie campaigns
a Korean had ever had. Some of the highlights include just
missing a playoff at the Manulife Financial, two fifth place
finishes in Malaysia and Taiwan, and a fifth place at the
British Women's Open in September.
So Yeon had a number of great chances to win,
but only grabbed one trophy, at the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic.
She started the final round tied with three other Korean stars
- IK Kim, Hee Kyung Seo and Jiyai Shin - but shot a blistering
final round 62 to run away with a seven shot victory. Her
62 tied the record for lowest score ever shot in the final
round to win a tournament. The other four women who share
that record are all Hall-Of-Famers!
Besides the Aussie Open and the Manulife,
Ryu's other best chances to win came at the Safeway Classic
and the season-ending CME Group Titleholders. Ryu lost a tight
battle with old rival Mika Miyazato at the Safeway, finishing
4th. At the CME, she battled Na Yeon Choi the entire last
day, but a couple of crucial mistakes cost her, and she finished
second to the Korean star.
Ryu wound up winning the Rookie of the Year
award, an award that had eluded her on the KLPGA tour, with
an incredible 1,448 points. She beat runner-up Lexi Thompson
by over 600 points, and was more than a thousand points ahead
of the third place woman. She was 6th on the money list and
second in scoring average behind Inbee Park. Among her other
statistical achievements: 2nd in putting/green in regulation,
3rd in rounds under par, 2nd in birdies, and 5th in Player
of the Year.
And that wasn't all! Ryu also won her 8th
KLPGA victory at the Hanwha Classic, her sponsor's tournament!
In December, she won both of her matches at the Korea-Japan
Team competition, and finished tied for third at the Swinging
Skirts event to end her year. She finished this epic season
ranked 7th in the world rankings, well above her position
at the start of the year, when she was outside the top 20.
So Yeon had an excellent 2013 season. Although
she would not win a tournament, she stll made almost exactly
the same amount as she had in 2012, while finishing slightly
higher on the money list (5th). Her world ranking climbed
as high as 4th due to her extreme consistency, which saw her
notch ten top tens. Ryu had top four finishes in three of
the five Majors, and had a good shot at a top ten at the British
as well, but faded in the last few holes. She shot a final
round 65 for a solo second at the Nabisco, and was one of
only three players under par at the US Women's Open. But the
Major she had the best chance to win was the Evian: she was
in contention on Sunday, but just couldn't make the charge
she needed and finished tied for 4th.
She had several other good chances for wins
that fell short. At the Walmart NW Arkansas in June, she made
a four putt late to fall into a tie with good friend Inbee
Park, who ended up winning the playoff. She duked it out with
Lydia Ko at the year ending Swinging Skirts, but another four
putt dropped her below the teen prodigy and she finished second.
Her most painful near miss came in defense of her Hanwha Classic
title on the KLPGA. She had the lead for several days, and
was 6 up with 10 to play. But then Sei Young Kim went on an
amazing streak of skill and uncanny luck. She jarred an eagle
on 9 from over 100 yards, then, on the 17th hole, made a hole
in one! The result was a playoff which Ryu lost.
Regardless of her setbacks, So Yeon had a
fantastic season, and has now established herself as the second
best Korean in the rankings behind Inbee. 2014 ought to be
very interesting for the young star!