The day before the U.S. Women’s Open was to begin at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., So Yeon Ryu, the recently crowned No. 1-ranked player in women’s golf, was a mess.
“She was ready to give the game up 24 hours ago,’’ Ian Baker-Finch told The Post by phone the day she shot a 4-under 68 in Thursday’s opening round. “She was pretty tense and apprehensive coming in [Wednesday] night.’’
Baker-Finch, the 1991 British Open winner, has become a mentor to Ryu, helping her with her confidence and her putting.
“I talked her down and gave her a little bit of fatherly advice, and a little bit of help with the putting stroke — anything to keep it simple and enjoyable and relaxed,’’ Baker-Finch said. “I know if you want to perform at a high level, that’s how you have to be at majors.’’
It is no accident Ryu is ranked No. 1 at the moment — even if few outside of LPGA circles know who she is.
It, too, is no accident she enters Sunday’s final round in the thick of contention at 5-under after shooting a 1-under 72 Saturday and in a tie for sixth place, four shots off the lead held by Shanshan Feng.
Suffice it to say Ryu is in pretty good hands.
Specifically, the hands of Baker-Finch and Cameron McCormick, who in addition to coaching Ryu also happens to coach a guy named Jordan Spieth.
Baker-Finch was introduced to Ryu by her caddie, Tom Watson (no relation), a fellow Aussie. In turn, Baker-Finch and Watson brought Ryu to McCormick, who has been Spieth’s coach since Spieth was a youth.
The 27-year-old Ryu, from South Korea, was so hell-bent on someday reaching No. 1 in the world she bought into the idea of working with McCormick so much that she moved from California to Dallas, where McCormick lives.
Someday came rather quickly for her. The changes have paid off and they have paid off faster than Ryu could have imagined.
She won the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s first major of the year, in controversial fashion (no fault of her own) when Lexi Thompson incurred a four-shot penalty in the final round for incorrectly marking her ball in the third round.
To a degree, the public outcry for Thompson’s misfortune had to dull the shine from Ryu’s accomplishment, though she performed well enough to win, playing the final 27 holes without a bogey and making a birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff.
Ryu validated the ANA win with a victory at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship three weeks ago, which happened to coincide with Spieth’s win at the Travelers Championship, making for a big week for McCormick with his two prized players hoisting trophies on the same day.
“Some of the people could think, ‘She’s not a true champion, no matter what,’ ’’ Ryu said of the ANA win. “Because of all that … I also wanted to prove, ‘Well, I can win without any hassles.’ ’’
The win in Arkansas elevated Ryu to No. 1, a place she had little idea she would reside so quickly after struggling prior to working with Baker-Finch and McCormick.
“I always dreamed of being No. 1 in the world, but I never expected my ranking to come this high very quickly,” Ryu said.
McCormick’s biggest technical change to Ryu’s swing has been to make it flatter and less upright. Positive results have followed.
When her third round was complete Saturday, Ryu seemed to be parroting what Baker-Finch has told her.
“I couldn’t bring out my ‘A’ game definitely, everything was a little off,’’ she said. “I think I’m holding up pretty great. I didn’t lose the confidence and [kept] fighting. At a major championship, you cannot be perfect the four days. Even though if I have a bad day, I just think, ‘OK, this could be the bad day but I still need to hold up.’ ’’
Baker-Finch said he “took” Ryu to McCormick, saying, “I suggested she get a coach that was over here in the states and Cam McCormick would be the best. He’s been really good for her, a great coach and a good personality for her.
“I’m the other figure, the mentor, the guy she turns to for guidance. I don’t want her to talk to a swing coach during major championships. I want her talking to me, and I’ll tell her about anything but technique. I think a lot of the players get in their own way trying to be too perfect, and I’m trying to make her less perfect.
“It’s a nice, rewarding situation I’ve found myself in with her. It’s like having another daughter.’’
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