The Survivor

So-yeon Ryu outlasted a fellow Korean and five weather delays en route to a surprise win at the U.S. Women's Open
July 17, 2011

The 66th U.S. Women's Open at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs was the tournament that wouldn't end. Five weather suspensions turned the championship into a torturous test of stamina and will that didn't finish until Monday morning. Considering how strangely things unfolded in the thin Rocky Mountain air, it was no surprise that the Open came down to a playoff between two little-known players from South Korea: Hee-kyung Seo (pronounced Suh) and So-yeon Ryu (You).

The three-hole aggregate playoff, in which Ryu made two birdies and won by three shots, capped a thrilling denouement to the Open. The week began with all eyes on Yani Tseng, a 22-year-old from Taiwan hell-bent on completing the career Grand Slam, but she never contended and finished 15th. Instead, all eyes were on Ryu and Seo.

On Sunday, Seo, a 25-year-old rookie who earned her LPGA tour card by winning the 2010 Kia Classic, played 36 holes and shot a pair of three-under-par 68s to finish at three-under 281. Ryu, meanwhile, played 33 holes on Sunday, and when play was suspended by darkness, she was a shot behind Seo.

On Monday the 21-year-old Ryu played the best golf of her life. At the par-3 16th she gouged a shot from under the lip of a deep greenside bunker to a foot to save par. After her birdie attempt at the 17th just missed, Ryu needed a birdie at the last, a 433-yard par-4 that ranked as the hardest hole of the week, to tie Seo. Ryu flushed a six-iron to eight feet, and her putt was dead center. "At first I was very nervous and afraid on the putt," said Ryu. "Then I told myself, Trust yourself. You're a great putter."

Ryu was introduced to the game at age eight at her elementary school in Seoul. By 15 she was on the Korean national team, and she turned pro two years later. In 2008, Ryu won her professional debut, the Sports Seoul Open, and the following year she began spending the summers in Australia working with instructor Ian Triggs. Ryu won five more times in '09 and '10, and she qualified for the U.S. Open by finishing fourth on the 2010 Korean LPGA money list.

Surprisingly, Ryu is only a part-time golfer. From September through May she's a full-time student majoring in physical education and English at Yonsei University in Seoul, where she recently finished the first semester of her junior year. "I love school," says Ryu. "I can be with friends and study and get away from golf." A Christian who reads the Bible every night, Ryu says prayer played a large part in keeping her calm amid the suffocating U.S. Open pressure.

After Ryu birdied the 18th again in the playoff, her mother, Kwang-ja Cho, ran onto the green, as did several Korean players who sprayed the champion with champagne. Amid the celebration Ryu and her mother hugged tightly. Asked what she told her daughter during the teary embrace, Mom said, "Nothing, no words. We just cried and smiled."

Now on

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Past Champ

As the British Open kicks off, Rory McIlroy remains the talk of golf, but the question is: Can the game's new star win two majors in a row? History isn't on his side. In the last 15 years three U.S. Open winners missed the cut at the British, and only four have finished in the top 10. Tiger Woods was the last man to win both, in 2000, and he followed with a victory at the PGA.

2010 Graeme McDowell 23rd
2009 Lucas Glover Cut
2008 Tiger Woods DNP
2007 Angel Cabrera 34th
2006 Geoff Ogilvy 16th
2005 Michael Campbell T5th
2004 Retief Goosen T7th
2003 Jim Furyk Cut
2002 Tiger Woods 28th
2001 Retief Goosen 13th
2000 Tiger Woods 1st
1999 Payne Stewart 30th
1998 Lee Janzen 24th
1997 Ernie Els T10th
1996 Steve Jones Cut
PHOTODOUG PENSINGER/GETTY IMAGES (RYU)FAST FINISH Ryu played only six holes on Monday, but she birdied half of them, including the last two holes of the playoff. PHOTOCARLOS M. SAAVEDRA (MCILROY)