When what is now the Rolex Rankings for women’s golfers started in 2006, the No. 1 spot was in strong hands. Annika Sorenstam grabbed it and held it for 60 weeks. When she retired in 2008, she left it in even stronger hands. Lorena Ochoa had it for a whopping 158 weeks—just over three years.
But Ochoa retired in May 2010, and left it wide open. Three different players swapped it right after that. Now since Lydia Ko lost that spot just five months ago, four different players—Ariya Jutanugarn, So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and Shanshan Feng—have had it, with Feng taking it over after winning last week.
“It’s interesting. We have literally fighting for No. 1 every single week it’s a new face,” Sorenstam said Monday. “… I think (the tour is) in great shape.”
Is it in better shape, though, when a Yani Tseng or Lydia Ko is dominating it, or when Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park are going back and forth, or when there’s more of a free-for-all?
Ryu debated the possibilities before arriving at a conclusion.
“We might need like a rock star, win the tournaments more than five times in the year and being in contention pretty much every tournament,” she said.
There are plenty of candidates. That’s the good news.
Lexi Thompson is fourth in the rankings, but leads the $1 million Race to the CME Globe that wraps up this week at the CME Group Tour Championship. She has two wins and nine top-10s.
“There are so many players out here that have spectacular games,” she said. “I’ve played well this year. I had a lot of consistent finishes with second places. You only feel like a dominant player if you’re winning every week, and I haven’t done that.”
A lot of players have won, though. And while that No. 1 ranking is a nice goal, it’s not the only one for many players. There’s Rolex Player of the Year. There’s the Vare Trophy for lowest stroke average. And there’s the money list.
But there’s nothing quite like being called No. 1.
“Being No. 1 was really an awesome experience,” said Ryu, who added when she failed to win while she held that spot, she didn’t feel like she deserved it.
When Ryu played in Korea, she even had a pro-am partner tell her since she was No. 1, that meant she should win once a month. “I kind of feel a little ashamed,” she said.
Back when Ochoa retired, Jiyai Shin, Ai Miyazato and Cristie Kerr passed No. 1 back and forth, with each of them holding the spot three times. Then Yani Tseng took over, holding it for almost two years. Then Lewis and Inbee Park went back and forth for over a year.
Ko put it back in a dominant player’s hands, holding it for all but 19 weeks (Inbee Park had it then) over the next two years. But Ko’s hold started to slip toward the end of last year, and it’s been back to up for grabs.
“When Lydia was No. 1 for the 80 weeks, I don’t think that was any easier than it is today,” Sung Hyun Park said. “I think she just worked really hard, and that’s the reason she was able to stay on top for 80 weeks, which I think is amazing.
“I think at any point now and then before, being the No. 1 in the world is difficult.”
Jutanugarn, who won the Race to the CME Globe last year, had it for two weeks, starting in June, then Ryu had it for 19 weeks, Sung Hyun Park had it for a week, and now Feng enters this week with it after winning the Blue Bay Classic last Saturday.
“It was really cool to be called the No. 1 player in the world,” Park said through a translator. “It was a short stint, but I enjoyed it very much.”
Ryu had a few of those No. 1s to seek advice from that she’ll remember if she’s fortunate enough to get back there.
Tseng told Ryu that when she was No. 1, she felt pressure representing her country (Chinese Taipei) and other people.
“Just be yourself,” Tseng told her. “Don’t just try to achieve other people’s dreams. Just follow your dream.”
And Ryu knows what that is.
“I want to be the rock star for the future,” she said with a laugh.