Colorado Springs, Colo. – In the end, with all the weather delays, 72 holes wasn’t enough to complete the 66th U.S. Women’s Open.
A three-hole playoff ensued after So Yeon Ryu drained a 5-foot putt on the 18th hole Monday morning at The Broadmoor to catch Hee Kyung Seo. She had been in the clubhouse at 3-under 281 and waited overnight to see if anyone would catch her.
In the first international playoff since the 1988 U.S. Senior Open, the two Koreans played the 16th, 17th and 18th holes on the 7,047-yard, par-71 East Course. It was the first playoff in the Women’s Open since the three-hole format was adopted in 2007.
Ryu, a junior at Yonsei University in Korea, completed her three-stroke victory when she converted a 5-foot putt on No. 18. She clasped her hands and then hugged Seo. Korean hero Se Ri Pak, the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open champion who spawned a future generation of Korean female golf stars, came on the green and doused Ryu with champagne.
Since Pak’s triumph, Koreans have won four Women’s Open titles and several other USGA championships.
“Unbelievable,” said Ryu, a six-time champion on the KLPGA Tour who finished 25th in last year’s Women’s Open at Oakmont Country Club. “I can’t believe it.”
“I did my best, and So Yeon did a great job,” said Seo. “I'd like to congratulate to her.”
It was the second time Ryu outlasted Seo in a playoff. In 2009, Ryu won the Orient China Ladies Open after the two shared the 54-hole lead.
|Koreans To Win USGA Titles Since
1998 Women's Open Win By Se Ri Pak
|Grace Park (1998 U.S. Women's Amateur)
Aree Song (1999 U.S. Girls' Junior
Inbee Park (2002 U.S. Girls' Junior)
Sukjin-Lee Wuesthoff (2003 U.S. Girls' Junior)
Sihwan Kim (2004 U.S. Junior Amateur)
Eun Jung Lee (2005 Women's Amateur Pub. Links)
Birdie Kim (2005 U.S. Women's Open)
In-Kyung Kim (2005 U.S. Girls' Junior)
Jenny Shin (2006 U.S. Girls' Junior)
Inbee Park (2008 U.S. Women's Open)
Danny Lee (2008 U.S. Amateur)
Jennifer Song (2009 Women's Amateur Pub. Links)
Jennifer Song (2009 U.S. Women's Amateur)
Eun-Hee Ji (2009 U.S. Women's Open)
Byeong-Hun An (2009 U.S. Amateur)
Lion Kim (2010 U.S. Amateur Public Links)
So Yeon Ryu (2011 U.S.. Women's Open)
Ryu entered the championship with the goal of finishing in the top 10. The top 10 scorers and ties are exempt into the following year’s championship. With the win, she won’t have to worry about next year; she earned a 10-year exemption.
When play commenced Monday, 36 players were still on the course following Sunday’s suspension due to darkness. Seo had been one stroke ahead of Ryu, who had three holes to play, and two ahead of 2007 champion Cristie Kerr, who had two holes to complete. The best Kerr could do was par her final two holes. She needed to sink a 15-foot birdie chance on No. 17, but she yanked it.
“I was pretty confident,” said Kerr. “You know, it was a pretty tricky read, though. I was a little bit jacked up.”
Meanwhile, Ryu was running out of chances. On the part-5 17th hole, she looked over a 5-foot birdie attempt left of the flagstick. The putt burned the outer lip of the hole. On the final hole, she hit her 6-iron 170 yards to within 5 feet of the hole, setting up the dramatic putt.
“Actually, I just kept singing in my mind,” said Ryu. “I prayed to God and then just hit it.”
Seo heard the roar while warming up on the range.
“I didn’t see it, but I heard sounds of yelling and clapping,” said Seo.
Based on statistics this week, Ryu had the advantage of playing the 16th, 17th and 18th holes. She played the three holes three under par as opposed to Seo, who had scored one over. Ryu also had an advantage of having to come back and finish the holes Monday morning. She said it was a key to her victory.
On the first playoff hole, both players parred No. 16. Ryu, seventh in greens in regulation, gained the advantage on the next hole when she knocked a pitching wedge 110 yards to 12 feet. Seo had pulled her drive into a left fairway bunker. The difficult lie ostensibly forced her to play out into the fairway. Her third shot wound up in rough, short and right of the green, and she failed to get up and down for par.
Ryu then drained her birdie putt. The long par 5, which measured 603 yards, wasn’t kind to Seo for the second day in a row. On Sunday, she missed a 2½ –foot putt for par and it ultimately cost her the title.
“I think the one mistake yesterday [was] on 17th green,” said Seo.
On No. 18, Ryu nearly repeated her accomplishment from regulation play. Her approach shot stopped 5 feet from the flagstick. At that point, it was all academic.
“It was lucky for me,” said Ryu, who played on the Korean 2006 Women’s World Amateur Team that finished 11th in South Africa.
When Ryu was a young girl, she watched Pak win the Women’s Open in 1998. She was seriously studying the violin, but decided to pick up golf as a hobby. Soon she was hooked. But on Monday, she thanked Pak for carving a path to stardom.
“My dream is the hall of fame, but it is just starting,” said Ryu. “It’s unbelievable this situation.”
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s online editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.