Champagne and champions: Close-knit Koreans continue bubbly celebration after latest victory round
So Yeon Ryu's U.S. Women's Open was over, and as third-place finisher, it was time for her media interview Sunday. But she asked the USGA communications official if she could go to the 18th green first to join other Koreans in celebrating Inbee Park's victory with their traditional champagne bath.
Then, Ryu raced from the scoring trailer to the 18th green, grabbed a waiting bottle of champagne and joined Na Yeon Choi -- the defending champion, by the way -- in dousing Park with a bit of the bubbly.
Unless it's a team event, you're never going to see Tiger Woods spraying Phil Mickelson with champagne, or vice versa.
Asked later to explain the importance of the ritual, Ryu put it in a cultural context, explaining that Koreans come to the LPGA with champagne dreams and caviar wishes, but first they must help each other survive in a foreign environment.
"It's really hard on the tour -- the overseas, we are Korean, we live in the States, we speak the different language, different culture. It's really tough," said Ryu, who won the 2011 U.S. Open before joining the LPGA Tour last year. "We really help each other.
"We teach golf skills to every player. It's something we have to do. Last year, I was a rookie, and Inbee gave me a lot of great advice. She helped me rent a house and [showed] how I can transfer at the airport. I have a lot to thank Inbee for, so I really want to celebrate Inbee's win."
It was actually a 1-2-3 Korean sweep at the top of the leader board with I.K. Kim taking second place at 4-under-par 284, four strokes behind Park and three ahead of Ryu. They were the only players in the field to break par at Sebonack Golf Club.
While Ryu and Choi celebrated by spraying Park, Kim stood back and watched before walking over to hug her playing partner.
If one Korean was disappointed, it was Kim, who famously missed a one-foot putt that would've won the Kraft Nabisco Championship last year and has several top-10 finishes in majors, but only three regular tour wins.
Kim began the day four strokes behind Park and never got closer than three as both shot a 2-over 74 in the windy conditions. "If I putted a little better this week, I think I could have pushed her a little bit more," Kim said of Park.
Sensing people pulling for the underdog, she added: "The fans were great. They were just rooting for me because, you know, they do that. I wanted to go out and make some drama. Four shots, you don't really know in a major, but how she's playing and putting, it's just difficult."
The second-place finisher gets a silver medal attached to a red, white and blue ribbon at the U.S. Open, which came as a pleasant surprise to Kim. "I didn't know I would get this thing," Kim said, pulling it out of the pocket of her shorts. "It's a nice souvenir. I'm just a little disappointed. I mean, it's the U.S. Open."
Ryu and Kim both expressed great admiration for Park's monumental achievement of winning three straight major championships. Kim downplayed the 1-2-3 Korean finish, but she also alluded to the struggle Koreans face coming to America to compete.
"We don't go back to Korea very often," Kim said. "We move here. You travel, and you don't get to see your family all the time. I think it just gives us a little bit of an edge, you know, from my perspective."
That edge from overcoming hardship never was more evident than this week.