Fri, Dec 09, 2011 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: Yani Tseng has conquered golf; now for the US

TOUGH TASK:The Taiwanese golf sensation may be a superstar at home and in Asia, but she still has to crack the US market — difficult for an Asian sportswoman to achieve


Taiwanese golfer Yani Tseng holds a traditional Taiwanese hand puppet on Oct. 18.

Photo: Chang Chia-ming, Taipei Times

It is the all-American girl’s study, as conceived by a Hollywood set director.

In addition to her growing collection of trophies, Yani Tseng (曾雅妮) has displayed two dozen Starbucks mugs from all over the world, an ad for a local pizzeria and a plush Angry Bird scowling from a loving cup. Only the certificate noting Tseng’s completion of a Level 4 English class hints at her deepest roots.

Tseng, 22, a native of Taiwan, is the world’s No. 1 female golfer. She is the youngest golfer, man or woman, to win five major titles. For her next act, Tseng wants to win over the US. She may find it easier to become the first woman to win a calendar Grand Slam.

With the exception of superstars like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, golfers are faint stars in the US firmament, outshined by football, basketball and baseball players. For a female golfer to make the rounds of the morning talk shows, all the planets have to align. It happened in September, but the player was not Tseng, who had won eight tournaments by then. It was Lexi Thompson, a tall, blond US teenager fresh off her first professional victory.

Over the past decade, the LPGA has had a proliferation of South Koreans in its ranks following the success of Se Ri-pak. Since 2008, its overall schedule has been downsized, but the number of tournaments in Asia has been rising. Among the official events added this year was one in Taiwan, which Tseng fittingly won for the 10th of her 11 worldwide titles this year.

The crowds that met Tseng at the airport when she arrived for the event were so large, she required the same security detail that accompanied the pop star Lady Gaga when she performed in Taipei. It was the same story on the course, where Tseng’s large following led her 92-year-old grandmother to ask if she had paid to have all the people brought in.

“It was so much fun,” Tseng said. “Now I know what Tiger feels.”

After the success of the event, the Taiwanese organizers paid handsome appearance fees to lure eight of the top 10 female golfers to New Taipei City (新北市) this week for what amounts to a curtain call: an 18-hole Grand Slam skins game, followed by the Taiwan Ladies Professional Golf Association Invitational.

Tseng’s fame in Asia dwarfs her profile in the US, which raises the question: In an increasingly globalized world, does it matter if the brightest stars shine in the East or West?

Robert Thompson, a professor of mass media and popular culture at Syracuse University in New York, said: “We have this prejudice that it does not matter if you’re huge anywhere else, that the only real sign of success is if you’re famous in the United States.”

“If I were advising her, I don’t think I’d put being famous in the United States at the top of my list. When you’re really famous in Asia, there are billions who know you, compared to millions in the US. I’d tell her to keep playing the way she’s playing and if she doesn’t make the highlights on ESPN, oh well,” he added.

At a tournament in China last month, Tseng was asked about playing against men, as her mentor, Annika Sorenstam, once did in a PGA Tour event. She said if the opportunity presented itself, she would like to try it. Within days, a tournament director in Puerto Rico offered her a sponsor exemption to his event next year.

“It was really nice to have people who really pay attention to you,” said Tseng, who declined the invitation. “I feel like every word I say now, I can really inspire people.”

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