It seemed like a jaw-dropping gesture to those who don’t know her, the kind of spontaneous generosity that brings a sudden, unexpected flood of emotions to those who bear witness. But to those who have known So Yeon Ryu for the better part of a decade, no act of kindness, big or small, comes as a surprise.
Ryu won the 34th Kia Motors Korean Women’s Open Championship on Sunday, her nation’s national championship, shooting a final-round, even-par 72 for a 12-under total, good enough to edge fellow LPGA Tour member Hyo Joo Kim by one shot.
Ryu did it through grit and consistency, making one bogey, one birdie and 16 pars in the final round, none more important than the par at the final hole. Clinging to a one-shot lead over Kim, Ryu found the bunker with her approach. The shot appeared difficult, but Ryu executed it to perfection, leaving herself a short putt for par and the victory.
It was Ryu’s first Korean Women’s Open title but her fifth national championship. She also won the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open in Colorado, an event that propelled her into the consciousness of golf fans worldwide, the 2009 China Ladies Open, the 2014 CP Women’s Open and the 2018 Japan Women’s Open.
This victory also came in her first competitive start since February when she began her LPGA Tour season at the ISPS Handa Vic Open and ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
But as interesting and fun as those facts might be, they pale in comparison to what Ryu did immediately after her Korean Women’s Open win. At her post-round press conference, the 29-year-old announced that she was donated her entire winner’s check, 250 million won ($206,000), to COVID-19-related charities.
“I thought of donating since last night,” Ryu said on Sunday. “Before the awards ceremony, I called my mom and told her that I was going to make the announcement so don’t be too surprised. She was just as happy as I was.
“Since this tournament has a lot of meaning to me, I thought that I may be able to play better if I had a positive goal. So, I came up with it last night.”
As amazing as that gesture might seem, it is nothing unusual for Ryu. In Australia earlier in the year, she donated all her earnings from the two ISPS Handa events, including a runner-up finish at the Vic Open, to wildfire relief. When she won the Meijer LPGA Classic in 2018, she made a staggering contribution to the Meijer Food Bank. She has made equally eye-popping donations of money and time to the Marilynn Smith Scholarship and other worthy causes.
These are not token gifts or tax write-offs. They aren’t “look at me” contributions from a celebrity wanting to appear magnanimous. Ryu does far more in private than the donations she announces to the public. A devout Christian, she sets a servant’s example, overwhelming those who know her with her generosity, not just in her gifts but in her spirit.
That’s why it brought a chuckle to those who heard her Korean Open press conference when she said, “I think humans really are greedy creatures because after I won this, I started to think that I want to win the British Open. Hopefully I can win that one, too.”
A lot of words come to mind when people think of So Yeon Ryu – kind, generous, inspirational, talented, patient, friend. No matter how many championships she captures, “greedy” will never make that list.