New No. 1 woman golfer is ready for a challenge at Olympia Fields

Women’s golf has a new No. 1 player going into today’s start of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club.

So Yeon Ryu of South Korea took over the top spot in the Rolex Rankings this week following her victory on Sunday in the Wal-Mart Northwest Arkansas Championship. She supplanted Ariya Jutanugarn, who had been No. 1 for just three weeks and didn’t play in Arkansas.

The ranking improvement – she had been No. 3 behind Jutanugarn and Lydia Ko – caught Ryu somewhat by surprise after she arrived at Olympia Fields this week.

“I couldn’t really think about it because I thought I was kind of far away from No. 1,’’ said Ryu, “But here I am. I’m finally No. 1. Dreams come true. I’m living a dream.’’

A five-time winner on the Ladies PGA Tour, Ryu won the first major tournament of the season – the ANA Inspiration – in March and became the first multiple winner of the season with her victory in Arkansas. It was a monumental win, too, as she set tournament scoring records after 18, 36 and 54 holes. She posted a sizzling 61 in the third round.

“I got a lot of confidence last week to play in this major tournament,’’ she said. “This week it’s really important to have great iron shots, and my iron shots have been really great. I feel pretty comfortable playing this golf course.’’

Along with claiming the No. 1 ranking Ryu took over the No. 1 spot on the LPGA’s official money list, the race to the CME Globe, the Rolex Player of the Year standings and Rolex Annika Major Award.

Ryu has missed only five cuts in over 140 starts on the LPGA Tour. Prior to her current hot streak she claimed another major title, at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open.

“I’m not a robot, so sometimes I play bad, sometimes great,’’ she said. “But even when I play bad I still enjoy the game. I can handle the situation. That’s why I made a lot of cuts. Hopefully I can make many more in the future.’’

Ryu doesn’t feel Olympia Fields’ North Course is as difficult as some of the other venues for recent major championships.

“The rough is not really long yet compared to the last two years of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (at Westchester, in New York, and Sahalee, in Washington),’’ said Ryu. “I hate to say this, but the rough lengths are the easiest so far.’’

She does think, however, that the slopes of the greens at Olympia could be tricky.

Ryu has won two of the LPGA’s five major championships. Her next goal is to achieve a Grand Slam of the women’s majors. She can win a third this week with the Ricoh British Open and the Evian Championship coming up after that. She’d like to win all five during her career, but getting them all this season is still a possibility.

“That’s the goal I really want to achieve,’’ she said. “Even though I’m No. 1 right now I still have to knock down three more tournaments. I haven’t thought about a season Grand Slam yet, but if I can do it that’d be fantastic.’’

Ryu is the third woman from South Korea to ascend to the No. 1 ranking. Jiyai Shin and Inbee Park were the previous No. 1-ranked players from that country.

“It’ll be interesting to see how long I can be the No. 1 player,’’ said Ryu. “I don’t know how long it can be, but I’m going to do my best to keep this position as long as I can.’’

She’ll tee off at 1:40 p.m. today, her 27th birthday, after receiving the No. 1 bib signifying her top ranking. Jutanugarn, the player she supplanted in the top spot, tees off at 2:06 on the same course that hosted the men’s U.S. Open in 2003.