Sometimes, expectations can create all sorts of problems, even for the top-ranked player in women’s golf.
Yani Tseng knows from experience.
With five majors already won and having captured the LPGA Tour Player of the Year award for the second straight year, wrapping it up with four events still on last year’s calendar, Tseng went into the off-season somewhat awestruck at what she had accomplished in such a short time and what the future might hold.
“At the beginning of this year, I was putting so much pressure [on myself], the most pressure I’ve ever had in my whole life,” said Tseng, who turned pro in 2007 and joined the tour full-time the next year. “In January, I would just stay home. I wouldn’t go out. It was no fun.”
It did not take long for that to change. After celebrating her 23rd birthday in late January, the Taiwanese star won Thailand for the second straight time and has remained atop the world rankings, a near cinch to win player of the year again.
“I don’t feel as much pressure [now], but the people around me, they say ... I’m getting picky, I want to try to be perfect all the time,” Tseng said. “But that’s not me. The more relaxed I am, the better I play. The week of Thailand, the second week, I kind of calmed down a little bit. That week ... was huge for me. After Thailand, I know that I can still keep the momentum going. At the beginning of this year, I was afraid. I didn’t know if I could do it again.”
Not much to worry about. Tseng won three of the first five events on this year’s LPGA Tour, leads the player of the year rankings by a wide margin over Yoo Sun-young and Stacy Lewis, and enters this week’s LPGA Championship at Locust Hill Country Club as the defending champion.
“I didn’t expect this. When I win the first [major], I never thought I’m going to win a second major,” said Tseng, who finished third in the first major this year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, just one shot out of a playoff. “I never thought about winning five. I never think about it, but now I’m thinking I can win more, of course.”
Tseng’s meteoric rise has made her the latest face of women’s golf, and she has embraced the demands that go with it.
“She’s been accessible, available and the ambassador at every turn,” LPGA Tour chief communications officer Kraig Kann said. “Every opportunity we’ve given her that we feel like is one that she needs to do, she’s done. You can’t do everything, but I am so impressed with how she carries herself. She’s not afraid, she’s not intimidated ... She’s not afraid to communicate the message. She understands that if she’s going to be No. 1 in the world, she needs to be that face out front. She needs to be engaging with the fans. She doesn’t shy away from anything.”
And that is why the fans who swarm to Locust Hill every year treat her as one of their own. Tseng ran away with last year’s LPGA Championship, winning by 10 shots over Morgan Pressel and Cindy LaCrosse.
“Last year, when I walked on the 18th hole — I’m pretty emotional — the crowd was amazing,” Tseng said. “Everybody stand up and clapped for me. I was like, I don’t know for what because I’m not American.”
That victory made Tseng the youngest female golfer in history to win four major titles. Winning again will be a challenge if she continues to falter, as she has in her past two tournaments. In the Sybase Match Play Championship, she was knocked out in the round-of-16, and last week she finished tied for 12th at the ShopRite LPGA Classic won by Lewis.