ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Kingsbarns is not the Old Course at St. Andrews, though it is close — at least as the sea gulls fly.
The American-designed course, located only a few miles from the Home of Golf along the shores of the North Sea, hosts the best women in the world at the Women’s British Open, where So Yeon Ryu is among the favourites in a bid to give her swing coach a sweep of British majors.
Ryu is No. 1 in women’s golf and the only player with multiple victories this year on an LPGA Tour. The 27-year-old South Korean shares a swing coach — Cameron McCormick — with Jordan Spieth, who two weeks ago won the British Open at Royal Birkdale.
Since linking up with McCormick, an Australian coach based in Dallas, Ryu has markedly improved multiple aspects of her full swing. Her biggest improvements, however, have come on the greens under the tutelage of former British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch.
“My mindset when putting has changed, especially when I practice, something Finchy has taught me to enjoy,” Ryu said. “Now, if I have three-hours to work on my game I spend two of those on and around the putting green. He has given me drills that are fun to do and give me targets to aim for. And once I have achieved those, I stop. Combined with Cameron helping with my technique, my putting is so much better than it was even two years ago.”
The Women’s British Open returns to Fife for the third time, with the previous two on the Old Course. The defending champion is Ariya Jutanugarn, who won by three shots last year at Woburn Golf Club in England.
Ryu, like everyone else in the 144-player field, will need all aspects of her game to be sharp at Kingsbarns if she wants to capture her third major.
In what the Scots sometimes laughingly refer to as “summer,” the weather is predicted to be the usual mix of sunshine and showers, with a bit of wind thrown in.
That might suit Lexi Thompson, the player right behind Ryu in the world rankings. Ryu beat Thompson in a playoff at the ANA Inspiration this year after Thompson was penalized four shots late in the final round for a rules violation on the putting green that was not revealed until a day later. She received a two-shot penalty for not replacing her ball correctly in the third round, and a two-shot penalty for a scorecard error.
Thompson is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game and should have an advantage on a course softened by recent rain. It also won’t hurt that the American’s caddie, Kevin McAlpine, is a former Scottish Amateur champion who has experience with the unique challenges of links golf.
“I love the golf course,” Thompson said. “I get to hit a good number of drivers, which is nice. But I’m putting my 3-iron in the bag this week, just in case it gets windy. A lot will depend on the conditions. If it gets super windy, it’s all about trusting your lines and seeing where it goes.”
Only one thing is bothering Thompson, who has 10 finishes in the top 10 at the majors over the last four years, including her victory in the ANA Inspiration three years ago. As a result of grinding her teeth while asleep, the 22-year-old American is having “bad problems” with her temporomandibular joint.
“It’s something I’ve dealt with for a few years now,” she said. “It just comes and goes.”
A bit like the weather in Scotland.