COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – So Yeon Ryu, drenched with cheap sparkling wine, waved happily from The Broadmoor’s 18th green. She’s a 21-year-old college junior in South Korea. She’s also the 2011 U.S. Open champion.
“I’m so happy,” Ryu said. “I can’t believe it.”
The 18th hole served as the ideal destination for her surprise celebration. Less than two hours earlier, she forced a playoff with her South Korean friend/rival Hee Kyung Seo with an ultra-clutch performance on the 18th hole.
For a few tantalizing minutes, it looked as if Seo would win the title despite not taking a shot on the final day. Rain delays had delivered all kinds of weirdness to this Open, and this was one of the strange quirks.
Ryu started the morning at No. 16, one stroke behind Seo, who had finished at twilight Sunday. Seo retreated to the practice course Monday morning, where she worked in peace while Ryu pursued her.
At first, it looked as if that pursuit would be in vain. On 17, Ryu lined up a 15-foot birdie putt with the chance to tie. The shot took a slow ride toward its destination, giving the crowd the chance to encourage the ball.
“Get in there!” a man shouted at near the limit of his lungs.
The ball failed to obey, rolling a few inches to the right of the cup. Ryu was staggered for a moment, bending her knees in disappointment.
She now faced a daunting challenge. She had to earn a birdie at fearsome No. 18.
Her approach shot was magnificent, rolling within five feet of the hole, but she had to wait eight excruciating minutes while her playing partners finished their rounds.
Ryu remained busy during her entire wait. She leaned on her putter. She took seven slow, gentle practice strokes. She backed off the green. She took two more practice strokes.
The biggest shot of her young life awaited her, and there was every reason to be overwhelmed. Ryu fought to remain calm.
And won the battle.
“I was just singing,” she said. “Just singing in my heart.”
She declined to reveal this internal song. Apparently, she doesn’t want to give any strategic advantage to her opponents.
The singing worked. Ryu calmly dropped the putt, forcing a playoff while the gallery roared with approval.
Seo had declined to watch. On the practice course 300 yards away from the 18th green, Seo heard a joyous commotion, and knew she would have to fight for the title.
Meanwhile, Michael Lee hurried to one of the The Broadmoor’s stores on a quest. Lee is Ryu’s manager, and he had a strong feeling a celebration was imminent.
Using his company credit card, Lee bought four bottles of Brut Marquis de la Tour at $25 per bottle. This is not the high quality stuff, but Lee didn’t care. He hoped nobody would ever drink from these bottles, which were intended purely for spraying.
And that’s exactly what happened. Ryu, already up two strokes in the playoff, again planted a sensational approach shot on 18, which doomed Seo.
Lee was jubilant after Ryu clinched her victory. This makes sense. He works as her manager, and she had just earned a check for $585,000.
“She’s only 21 years old,” Lee said. “I expected her to play well. I didn’t expect her to win.”
But she did. A junior in college repeatedly showed poise and power on one of the toughest holes of them all.
Just think how many sparkling wine showers might be in her future.