Adjusting to American culture is challenging for rookie golfer So Yeon Ryu.
Even though she holds her own in conversation, her English is limited, a restriction that sparks her insecurity. The food she consumes doesn't taste the same, or as good, as it does in her native South Korea.
When she wants to go shopping in California, where she has called home for the past four months, the 22-year-old doesn't know where to find a pair of shoes she likes.
"I try really hard, but I'm still learning," Ryu said.
The top rookie on the LPGA tour by a clear distance, Ryu has managed to separate the pains of her personal life from her career, setting up a wall between them to avoid disruption in her quest to join the lineage of superlative golfers from her homeland. Ryu carded a 4-under-par 67 on Thursday in the first round of the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic, tying her for eighth and putting her in position to capture her first tournament title in a season that includes everything but. Her glowing debut on the tour includes seven finishes in the top 10, earnings in excess of $500,000, and supremacy over other tour newcomers. With 711 points she has placed a stranglehold on rookie of the year, with second-place American Lexi Thompson trailing by 253 points.
Other rookies to play well on day one were Numa Gulyanamitta (5-under 66, tied for second) and Danielle Kang, Jacqui Concolino, Jane Rah, and Lizette Salas (3-under 68, tied for 14th).
This ascent up the world rankings for Ryu, to No. 22, is not a surprise.
The surprise came last summer when Ryu, who had yet to earn her tour card, won the U.S. Open. In winning a playoff over countrymate Hee Kyung Seo, Ryu became the third youngest woman at 21 to capture the title, behind fellow Seoul natives Se Ri Pak and Inbee Park.
As an added bonus, Ryu earned her tour card. Her impact in 2012 was felt immediately when she collected runner-up honors at the Australia Open in the first week of the season.
"Everyone had high expectations," she said. "It was a little too much for me. It was a little bit out of control."
While she continues to produce top-10 finishes, Ryu is flourishing on the other side of the rope. Consulting other Korean golfers for help, her acclimation to a new culture is going more smoothly. For instance, she learned the term "you" is not a slight as it is in Korean.
"If we say 'you' to the grandfather in Korea, it's really rude," Ryu said.
Ryu was 5-under Thursday before pushing her tee shot wide on No. 17 and taking a bogey. A five-foot putt for birdie on 18 misfired, an inch or two off the mark. She has the game to become the ninth Korean to win the Farr -- a list that includes Se Ri Pak five times -- and to collect her first title of this season.
Ryu will tee off at 12:15 p.m. from tee 10.
"These days I have a lot of confidence," she said. "I really want to win."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.