Turning points change the trajectories of careers.
They also change confidence.
For players looking back, they see how these moments changed the arc of their careers. They see moments that make the rest of their careers make more sense.
Here’s part 4 of our Turning Points Series.
Inbee Park, Michelle Wie West and So Yeon Ryu relay what they remember as critical turning points.
When Park won the U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen in 2008, she was 19 years, 11 months and 17 days old.
She’s still the youngest winner in the championship’s history.
That breakthrough, her first LPGA title, didn’t open a floodgate of victories for her. She went more than four years – 81 starts – before winning again at the 2012 Evian Masters.
The Evian victory was a signal of what was yet to come, one of the great runs in LPGA history, with Park going on to win six times in 2013, including the first three major championships of that year.
Park is 31 now, already an LPGA Hall of Famer with 20 career titles. What elevated her in becoming one of the greats of the game?
The Shot: OK, if there was a single shot, it probably came on a practice range, because Park says the turning point in her career was hiring Gi Hyeob Nam as her swing coach during the 2011 season. He changed more than her swing. He changed her life. He went from boyfriend to fiancé to husband. They married in October of 2014.
In her words: “He changed my release in my swing. It’s hard to explain, but my ball striking improved 300 percent. I was a lot more consistent, but he helped me with more than that. I wasn’t enjoying tour life. I was going from the hotel to the golf course and back to the hotel, and that was it. That changed when he started traveling with me in 2012. I was a lot happier. I was enjoying golf again, but I was also enjoying life away from golf. We went sightseeing together and to restaurants together. I found things other than golf in our life together. I really started playing well when he started traveling with me.”
Michelle Wie West
Before Beth Daniel made her U.S. Solheim Cup captain’s picks for the 2009 matches at Rich Harvest Farms, Golf Digest wrote that there would be “voices of outrage among some players” if she chose Wie West.
That was her rookie year.
There was still a lot of grumbling over her failed PGA Tour bids, over the sense that her controversial path to the tour wasn’t just misguided, but developmentally troubling. She hadn’t won anything anywhere in six years, though she was off to a solid start in her rookie campaign.
Daniel, in fact, did select Wie West, who was 13th in the U.S. points standings. Daniel skipped over veterans Laura Diaz and Stacy Prammanasudh, both LPGA winners. She made Juli Inkster her other captain’s pick.
Wie West, 19 at the time, teed it up at Rich Harvest Farms under more pressure than any player in the competition.
And she delivered big time.
She went 3-0-1 with an important Sunday singles victory.
The Americans and Europeans were tied, 8-8, going into that final day, with Daniel sending Wie West off third in the singles lineup against the highly competitive Helen Alfredsson.
Wie West won, 1 up, to help the Americans win the Cup.
Three months later, she won her first LPGA title at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Her five career LPGA titles include the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst.
The Shot: Wie West watched Alfredsson chip in at the first hole to go 1 up. The second hole was a par 5, where Wie West watched Alfredsson go for the green in two, successfully knocking her approach to 15 feet to set up an eagle putt. That left Wie West over a 5-iron, knowing she needed to step up to match Alfredsson’s bold start. The shot required carrying water and a bunker to reach a back pin. Wie West didn’t just pull it off; she carved her approach inside Alfredsson’s, to 6 feet, and then she made the putt, matching Alfredsson, who also made her eagle putt.
In Her Words: “That whole week was nerve wracking, but I had teammates as partners helping me in those early matches. I remember really feeling the pressure in singles, going up against Helen Alfredsson, one of the game’s top, top players. Just hearing about her history, it’s intimidating. I literally had the shakes on the first tee. That’s as nervous as I’ve ever been in my entire life.
“When I look back at my career, that 5-iron at the second hole, it was the turning point for me. I was so nervous, but I knew if I believed in myself, I could do it. I don’t think I would have won at Lorena’s event later that year if not for that shot. I definitely look back on it in important moments. I gain so much confidence remembering it and how I handled the pressure. It definitely helped me in 2014 winning the U.S. Women’s Open.”
So Yeon Ryu
Ryu, 29, reigned as Rolex World No. 1 for 19 weeks in 2017. She has claimed six LPGA titles, two of them major championships, but American fans knew almost nothing about her when she teed it up at the U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor in 2011.
She was a seven-time Korean LPGA Tour winner at the time and earned her way into the field with her top-five finish on the KLPGA Tour’s money list the previous year. She was also a student at Yonsei University in Seoul.
On Sunday of that U.S. Women’s Open, Ryu stepped to the tee at the final hole trailing Hee Kyung Seo, the clubhouse leader, by a single shot.
The Shot: Under pressure in the most important event in women’s golf, Ryu carved a 6-iron to 6 feet and made the birdie putt to force a three-hole aggregate playoff with Seo. Ryu went on to win, and she will always remember that finish as the pivotal turning point in her career.
In Her Words: “It was such an important putt and shot for my career. It didn’t only help me win the U.S. Women’s Open, but it allowed me to go from the KLPGA to the LPGA. I was in school and thinking about possibly quitting golf and maybe starting a career in sports marketing. If I hadn’t made that putt, I might not be playing today. The other thing is that it made it so much easier to join the LPGA, as U.S. Women’s Open winner. It made it a smoother transition.”