World number one So Yeon Ryu has enjoyed a banner year on the LPGA Tour, and yet it could finish on an even brighter note with the Korean well aware that she has a golden opportunity to add several more awards to an already bulging trophy cabinet.
Two victories this season among her 10 top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour have thrust her into contention for the money list title, Rolex Player of the Year and the LPGA Race to the CME Globe. She is also in pole position to win the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award (RAMA) for the best overall record in this year's five major championships.
"To be honest, I never really thought about it but when I was in Korea recently, a lot of people started to talk about it," So Yeon said on an LPGA conference call to promote RAMA and the upcoming Evian Championship. “They would say, 'Oh So Yeon, now you have a chance for Player of the Year. Now you have a really good chance to win the Race to the CME Globe.' So when people started to talk about it, definitely you start to think about it."
Heading into the Cambia Portland Classic in Oregon, So Yeon led the Race to the CME Globe points standings and was in second place (behind fellow Korean Sung Hyun Park) in the LPGA Tour money list with earnings of $1,769,650.
"I'm not going to lie, it's definitely kind of put pressure on me, because being Player of the Year, it's a really, really great opportunity and I really want to be Player of the Year for this year," said So Yeon. "But all I can do is my best and prepare for the tournaments well, and then I'm just going to wait on the result after the last tournament of the year."
So Yeon is the front runner for the 2017 Rolex ANNIKA Major Award. Following her victory at the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third at the U.S. Women's Open, she has a healthy lead of 18 points in the RAMA standings heading into the year's final major, the Sept. 14-17 Evian Championship.
FOLLOWING IN ILLUSTRIOUS FOOTSTEPS
Should she go on to clinch the RAMA award, she would follow in the illustrious footsteps of the three previous winners - Michelle Wie, Inbee Park and Lydia Ko.
"If I'm able to join that group, it's going to be very special," said So Yeon. "It's going to give me more extra motivation to keep playing well, and it's going to prove how hard I worked to get this award. It would also mean that I'm able to handle all the pressure.
"All the tournaments are really challenging but especially the major tournaments. The courses are set up more tough and every situation gives us extra pressure. That's why people think that winning major tournaments is more special. So it would really be an honor to have the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award."
Long regarded as one of the best ball-strikers in the game, So Yeon became world number one for the first time after clinching the fifth LPGA Tour title of her career at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship on June 25.
It took her a little while to become accustomed to her lofty perch atop the Rolex Rankings, but she says she is now comfortable with that position.
"When I first became world number one, I was very overwhelmed and I just couldn't believe it," So Yeon smiled. "I just couldn't really describe how I felt; I was really, really happy. But since then, everything has returned to normal - I still want to be a better player every day, I still want to improve my game every tournament. Every day I want to be great and every day I want to play well."
As she prepares for the Evian Championship at Evian Resort Golf Club where she was a runner-up last year, So Yeon is especially focusing on her putting, even though she has made good progress on the greens since working last year with former British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch, one of the best putters of his generation.
"Like last week, I was able to get in contention but I couldn't do it (win) because my putting was not great enough," So Yeon said, referring to her tie for 12th at the CP Women’s Open. "Until Saturday, my putting was just okay, it was like B. But the last round, my putting was not even C. I just lost an opportunity. So putting, I am really focused on that."