If anyone can derail the major championship express known as Inbee Park at the U.S. Women's Open this week at Sebonack Golf Club, it just might be one of her closest friends, So Yeon Ryu.
A day after Park won for the fifth time this year in a playoff against Ryu at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, the two enjoyed a practice round Monday at Sebonack with Michelle Wie and Nicole Zhang.
So no hard feelings, right? "[Sunday] felt really awkward because we are really close friends," Ryu said with an engaging smile. "It's hard to play with your best friend in the playoff. But every tournament cannot have two champions, so we have to decide one champion.
"I really wanted to chase her down, but I couldn't. She deserved it. I'm happy for Inbee's win, and I want to keep focused on my golf and make another win."
While Park is the LPGA Tour's dominant player -- she's won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the Wegman's LPGA Championship, the first two of five majors -- Ryu is well-positioned to challenge her fellow South Korean. Not only is Ryu fourth on the money list after five top-10 finishes this year, but she won the 2011 U.S. Women's Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.
After playing her first Open at Oakmont in 2010, Ryu said, "I was really afraid to play the U.S. Open because I never played that many tough golf courses. But I won the 2011 Open, and I thought, 'Maybe I can handle it.' It gave me a lot of confidence. It's a really great memory for me. Not everybody can hold a major title, but I got it. So I'm really proud of myself."
Certainly, Ryu has been edging closer to the top, ranking 10th in scoring average this year. She was fifth in last year's final major, the Ricoh Women's British Open, and she was second behind Park this year at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
Ryu went into a bit of a slump but said she started trusting her swing again last week in Arkansas. "Everything is great, especially this golf course," she said. "The landscape is beautiful, and the greens are really, really hard. Last week was a really great comeback. I feel I get my confidence, so I can't wait to play."
Like everyone else on the LPGA Tour, Ryu knows Park has become as formidable an opponent as there is in golf.
"At this stage, Inbee is really powerful," Ryu said. "I mean, she hits it really straight. Her putting is incredible. So I'm jealous, and I'm pretty sure everybody is jealous of her putting. But we have to stay focused on our own golf."
After playing Sebonack's front nine Monday, Ryu pronounced herself happy with her shotmaking and how she was able to draw the ball and fade it at will. Mentally, she's in a good frame of mind to handle the challenge.
"I just want to love everything, love the golf course, love the tough thing, love hanging out with the spectators," Ryu said. "That's kind of me."