Know Your Asians, US Women’s Open Champ Edition: So Yeon Ryu
By Stephanie Wei under Know Your Asians

Kiss the trophy

Plagued by delays and inclement weather, the US Women’s Open wrapped up on Monday afternoon in Colorado Springs. Finally.

So Yeon Ryu defeated fellow South Korean rival Hee Kyung Seo in a three-hole playoff to capture the major championship. Ryu had three holes in regulation left to play and needed to birdie one of them to force a playoff. She rolled in a six-fotter for birdie on the 18th, and then started the playoff just a half-hour later. The day was even more special for Ryo, with her hero, Se Ri Pak, the Queen of South Korean golf, watching her on the course. Via the AP:

Ryu became the fifth South Korean to win the Open and the fourth in the last seven years. Yes, they take their golf seriously there and Se Ri Pak — the queen of the sport in that country — was out on the course watching the 21-year-old Ryu make history.

“I’m proud of it,” Ryu said. “To see my hero, Se Ri Pak, out there fighting for me. It’s pretty powerful, yeah.”

Who the heck is So Yeon Ryu? Good question. I hadn’t even heard of her. I’d already introduced Hee Kyung Seo in a “Know Your Asians” post last year, so I’m somehwat familiar with the player whose nickname is “Supermodel of the Fairways.” But this last week was the first I’d heard of Ryu (I’d chalk it up to my ignorance, but I am familiar with most Koreans on the LPGA and Ryu plays on the KLPGA).

Well, let’s try to get to know Ryu a little better, with information from the experts at Seoul Sisters.

*Ryu plays primarily on the KLPGA, with her rookie year being 2008.

*Her best LPGA finish was T12 at the 2010 Hana Bank Kolon Championship.

*Her previous best LPGA major finish was T25 at last year’s US Women’s Open.

*She doesn’t have LPGA status, but I have a feeling we might be seeing more of her next season or even this year.

*Apparently she speaks English very well!

*She has a rivalry with Seo that dates back to 2009, according to Seoul Sisters:

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…

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 bonified superstar.

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.

*Ryu entered the week ranked No. 40 in the Rolex world rankings.

*She received a spot in this year’s US Women’s Open because she finished top-five in the money list on the KLPGA in 2010.

*At the 2009 KLPGA Awards Show, Ryu was one of five stars who performed a dance number. Here’s a picture (for more, go here):

Ryu = first on the left; Seo = third from the left

Random Asian-ness Scale (1-10, 1: Michelle Wie, totally Americanized; 5: Se Ri Pak, somewhat assimilated; 10: Eun-Hee Ji, 한국말): Ryu = 6.5

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)