DALY CITY – The hard work is beginning to pay off for So Yeon Ryu.
The South Korean carded a bogey-free 9-under par, 63 on Thursday to take a two-stroke lead at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic presented by CTBC. It’s the lowest round of the season for Ryu, who also set a new Tournament course record on day one.
“Well, I was kind of lucky to tee it off really early,” Ryu said. “I had a really fresh green, no wind. Also San Francisco is really cold in the morning, but this morning it was just perfect temperature. Then I think today everything was just great. My tee shot was great. I only missed one green today. I shot 17 greens. Putting was really good.”
Despite owning the longest active cut streak on the LPGA Tour, Ryu has struggled to break through for a win since 2014, her last victory coming at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, which was also the last time she held the round one lead.
As she began to slip in the rankings, putting her position in the Olympics and UL International Crown in question, Ryu made a change. In January, she began working with instructor Cameron McCormick, perhaps best known for his work with Jordan Spieth.
“I think I pretty much complete everything. Also I hit the ball a little longer,” said Ryu. “So I feel pretty much comfortable with the long game. We were just more working on my short game, especially my putting. I have been working with Ian Banker-Finch as well, so Ian and Cameron been discuss about my putting as well. So, yeah, feels really good to have really good team.”
Last week Ryu dropped out of the top-10 in the Rolex Rankings for the first time since her rookie season in 2012, having posted just one top-10 finish in 2016. But a recommendation this week from her caddie Tom Watson could be to credit for her exceptional round.
“I never had any practice stroke before I putted, but Tom recommended me just to have a practice swing, practice stroke behind the putt. I think it’s really help me to get better visualization. Yeah, so I think that was the biggest change of my putting,” said Ryu. “One thing I can say is I work really hard and my whole team work really hard. Hopefully it's going to pay off next three days as well.”
Ryu made it around in 27 putts on Thursday to take a two-stroke lead ahead of Haru Nomura, who also went out in the morning wave and captured her first win on the LPGA Tour earlier this season at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. T-2 with Nomura is Candie Kung, who carded her low round of 2016 with a 7-under par, 65 on day one. Kung took a much needed break following the ANA Inspiration and it served her well on Thursday, helping her on a track where she has struggled in the past. Kung bounced back from two opening bogeys by following up with nine birdies on the day.
In search of their first win on Tour, Xi Yu Lin and Christel Boeljon are T-4 at 5-under par. Lin, coming off her second missed cut of the year, knew a change was needed and sat down with longtime caddie Mardi Lunn to discuss what they could do differently going forward.
“Well, she is very experienced because she used to be player,” Lin said. “We been working together for a long time. We know each other. So I decide to just tell her all my feeling, and sometimes just get the feeling this club is right even it doesn't look right. So I just tell her. I telling her everything. I'm so nervous hitting this drive or I don't like this pin position, so let's hit to the middle of the green. We talk a lot. Like soon as I make it clear, I can have a good rhythm.”
Defending champion Lydia Ko sits T-6 at 4-under par with a group that includes Catriona Matthew, Na Yeon Choi and Rachel Rohanna. Ko scrambled on day one, hitting just 9 of 14 fairways and 10 of 18 greens.
“I mean, it's a tough course so you almost need to take advantage of the holes where you're coming in with shorter clubs. I guess those are kind of like the par-5s. If they become reachable, then if we make an eagle, that's just an extra bonus,” said Ko. “It's tough, especially with the rough being lush. When you get those birdie opportunities you need to try and grab them. Yeah, there is not really one particular hole. But to me, I think No.4, the par-4, is one of the toughest holes on the course. Even if you're hitting a short iron with the way that that hole is kind of set up, if you come off with four pars at the end of the week, that's pretty good.”
Suzann Pettersen withdrew prior to the start of the first round citing back spasms. Ha Na Jang withdrew from the tournament after playing the 11th hole on Thursday.