So Yeon Ryu has made many efforts to improve her mental game in her first season on the LPGA Tour.
She employs a psychologist and brings along her mother to tournaments for emotional support. Ryu maintains contact with athletes from her native South Korea, soliciting their advice on handling pressure. A photo of her winning an amateur tournament several years ago occupies the backdrop of her computer screen, a reminder of how good she can be.
None of these tactics taken by her equals the jolt of confidence she received Sunday as she ripped off six straight birdies on her way to winning her first championship on the tour at the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic.
In what figured to be a nip-and-tuck final day at Highland Meadows, Ryu distanced herself from three other leaders on the back nine by stroking a series of approach shots within a few feet of the hole. Her final round score of 9-under par 62, which included consecutive birdies from holes nine to 14, is tied for the fourth best round in course history.
"It feels surreal," Ryu said. "I can't believe it."
In finishing the week at 20-under, Ryu carded the second best 72-hole score at the course, trailing the 23-under posted at the 1998 Farr by her heroine, Se Ri Pak.
Finishing runner-up was American Angela Stanford, who finished at 13-under, jumping six spots on the final day with a round of 5-under.
"When you see that somebody's running away with it, you continue to chase them, but then it's also like, I'd like to be second," Stanford said.
Of the three Koreans who shared the lead with Ryu entering the day, none finished below par in their final round. Ryu's playing partner, Hee Kyung Seo, endured a brutal back nine, recording three bogeys and finishing 2-over. I.K Kim finished par, and Jiyai Shin was 1-over.
Two other Koreans, Inbee Park and Chella Choi, shared third place at 12-under.
Ryu pockets $195,000 for her first win in a rookie season that has seen her produce eight top-10 finishes. In a bit of deja vu, she was paired for the final round with Seo, whom she defeated in a playoff to capture the 2011 U.S. Open. Ryu, who earned her LPGA Tour card that day, no longer will be strapped by the burden of not having won again.
"This is my turning point," she said. "I just want to make a lot of wins again."
Ryu attributes much of her success to four people. There's Pak, the five-time Farr winner, who advises Ryu to relax and enjoy the events she's playing in. Son Yeon-Jae, a rhythmic gymnast who competed at the London Olympics, told her friend Ryu on Saturday to not focus on the big picture of winning the tournament but on the small steps needed to get there.
Then there are Ryu's two psychologists, one who is licensed and another who knows her even better.
"My mom is one of my psychologists," Ryu said. "Not a professional psychologist, but she is my best psychologist."
Kwang Ja Cho, who was on site to soak up the moment, told her 22-year-old daughter to be patient.
"It's not just about money or winning, you need to enjoy what you're doing," Cho said through an interpreter.
Ryu's torrid run began with a 30-foot putt on No. 9, her third birdie of the round to that point. Confidence was waning, she admitted, after she failed to convert makeable birdies three times on the front nine.
"But after nine, I got confidence again."
None of the five birdies that followed came from outside of seven or eight feet, a testament to Ryu's uncanny precision on approach shots. She accompanied a six-foot putt on No. 10 with a fist pump, aware that at 15-under she owned a two-stroke lead. This pivotal stretch of birdie after birdie continued until No. 15 when she missed a 25-foot putt by a foot or two. The gallery, which had grown incrementally from hole to hole, clapped softly when Ryu saved par, expressing their unhappiness to see the fun end.
"Felt like a bogey," Ryu said. "It felt weird."
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