So Yeon Ryu returns to the LPGA just in time for a major that brings out her best

So Yeon Ryu came back to her home in Las Colinas, Texas, for the first time in nine months and spent two days cleaning with a broom in hand after her vacuum died. (She also wore a mask and gloves because dead bugs are not her thing.) The South Korean went to Chipotle to satisfy a chicken bowl craving and caught up with her swing coach Cameron McCormick.

The Volunteers of America Classic, situated 40 minutes from Ryu’s American home, marks the former No. 1’s first LPGA start since February, an ideal warm-up before next week’s 75th U.S. Women’s Open.

Few players on the LPGA have a USWO record that can rival Ryu’s. The 2011 Women’s Open champion has five top-5 finishes in her last seven appearances. Her worst finish, a share of 25th, came in her championship debut in 2010. Only Annika Sorenstam has notched as many top-5 finishes (six) since 2000.

No one has had a better scoring average at the USWO in the past decade: 71.35. No one has posted more rounds in the 60s: 10.

It’s no wonder Ryu came back when she did.

So Yeon Ryu on 18th green during the first round of the 2018 TOTO Japan Classic at Seta Golf Course in Otsu, Shiga, Japan. (Ken Ishii/Getty Images)

Originally, Ryu thought she might return for the ANA Inspiration, where she’s also a past champion. But she was enjoying her time back home in South Korea too much to leave. Especially her 8:30 a.m. breakfasts with mom and dad.

“I know it sounds a bit weird,” said Ryu, who turned 30 during the break, “because I didn’t really spend much time with my family for last nine years, eight years while I stayed in the U.S. Waking up at 7 and then having a breakfast with them at 8:30, that was my routine. That was one of my favorite time for last nine months.”

Another reason Ryu didn’t come back sooner: She’d realized a lifelong dream in winning her country’s national open.

“I almost like (felt) satisfied with my 2020 season after I won the tournament,” said Ryu of capturing the Korea Women’s Open.

Ryu donated her prize money from the event to charity, saying that it’s important to her that people know she cares about the bigger picture. That she cares about people.

There was pressure playing on the KLPGA, Ryu said, even though she’d competed on the tour for four years before winning the U.S. Women’s Open. She felt like a guest there this time around.

“That was so weird playing KLPGA Tour, because people literally seeing me as just going to judge like which tour is better tour,” said Ryu. “So when I play really bad, like people started to say, ‘Oh, maybe KLPGA Tour is tougher to compete in.’

“I almost feel like … well, nobody told me that … but I just kind of feel like I should play well to represent the LPGA Tour well as well. So that was one of the biggest challenges for me when I played the KLPGA event.”

So Yeon Ryu celebrates winning the 2020 KIA Motors Korea Women’s Open at the Bears Best CheongNa in Incheon, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Practice facilities aren’t as easy to come by in South Korea, ones that aren’t multi-story driving ranges off of mats anyway. Ryu was pleased to find a coach back home who could work virtually on her swing with McCormick, swapping emails.

She took the opportunity to see new courses, playing 15 new tracks during her time at home.

Once back in the U.S., Ryu was nervous about speaking in English with old friends and reporters, but the rust didn’t show. Even though she competed in six events on the KLPGA this year, Ryu said it felt like she hadn’t played at all when she got back to Texas.

“I thought it was going to be totally new feeling,” she said, “but as soon as I start to practice on Monday, everything was just same as what I used to do.”

That bodes well for next week at Champions Golf Club, even though Ryu will be headed into the two-course event without having seen either track. Her veteran caddie, however, did get out to Houston for a scouting report, and Ryu feels confident that he’ll be able to show her the way.

Stacy Lewis points to Ryu’s solid ball-striking and even temperament as keys to her past Women’s Open success. Boring golf bodes well at these affairs.

“She’s okay hitting it to the middle of the green,” said Lewis. “She’s not going to force things unless she doesn’t have to.”

Besides, she’s already won an Open this year. The rest of 2020 still feels like a bonus.

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