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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

R-yu: Experienced

Pardon the bad Jimi Hendrix pun, especially since So Yeon Ryu's last name is pronounced like "you." (Although it's possible we just have trouble pronouncing that "ry" sound in English and "you" is as close as we can get. For example, there is no "i" sound in Korean. The Hangul characters used to spell my name are pronounced "mah-eek." My blog is a treasure trove of information, isn't it?)

U.S. Women's Open Champion So Yeon RyuToday we'll look at the swing of the new U.S. Women's Open Champion and -- in case you haven't heard yet -- newest LPGA Tour member, So Yeon Ryu. At first glance it isn't much different from runner-up Hee Kyung Seo's swing, but there are a couple of significant differences between the two. And while I stated in the Seo swing post that those differences don't make one swing better or worse than the other, I do think the differences favored Ryu in last week's major. You'll understand why in a moment.

First, let's take a look at Ryu's swing. This video has both face-on and down-the-line views of her swing, in both full speed and slo-mo:



The face-on view of Ryu's swing looks almost identical to Seo's. Both are very stable over the ball, and both use an early wrist cock. However, Ryu moves to her right a bit more during her backswing, and she doesn't arch her back the way Seo does. (Seo's ball is also farther forward in her stance than Ryu's, but I'll come back to that.) These are minor differences, but they have a noticeable effect: Seo has a longer swing, but she's in a less powerful position to begin her downswing. If you look at both players when their hips have returned to their setup position and their left arms are parallel to the ground (in the first Seo video, that's at 1:05, while it's at :56 in the Ryu video above), Ryu has much more wrist cock. Result: More potential clubhead speed.

But there's another difference visible in the down-the-line view -- namely, Ryu's swing plane is much more upright. (Reminder: An upright plane puts the hands and left forearm higher than the right shoulder at the top of the backswing.) It's easier to hit down on the ball with an upright plane, and you can make a good argument that an upright swing develops more power because the lats and triceps are more involved in the swing. Although it isn't always the case, most power players have tended to have upright swings -- think Nicklaus and Norman. Ryu also drops her hands just a bit to start her downswing (some teachers call that "re-routing the club"), which helps her keep her wrist cock a bit longer.

At any rate, upright swingers tend to hit the ball higher, which is why I think Ryu hit the ball so much farther than Seo in Colorado Springs. She was better able to take advantage of the altitide. The ball position further emphasizes this difference. With the forward ball position, Seo was "sweeping" the ball off the tee and getting a lower launch angle while Ryu was hitting more down with the ball farther back in her stance.

Let me re-emphasize that both swings are good swings, and I'm not saying Ryu's swing is better than Seo's. All I'm saying is that Ryu's upright swing allowed her to get more distance in the high altitude and on the wet course where the Open was played. Had they played at sea level, or had the course been dry, the results might have been very different. Under normal circumstances, I'd guess Ryu would get more carry while Seo would get more roll.

For now, as the post title says, Ryu is now the more experienced player -- at least as far as LPGA majors is concerned. These two women have been rivals for a while, and with Ryu's acceptance of her LPGA membership, we can probably look forward to more playoffs between the two. (For the record, Ryu is now up 2-0 over Seo.) But both women have great swings, and you would do well if you imitated either.

The picture came from this post at ESPN.com.

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