Yani Tseng excited to be home
Yani Tseng has won five LPGA major titles and more than $9.3 million in her career, and she's still only 24. So she's hardly a charity case. But you get the sense Tseng could use a good old-fashioned positive omen. Well, as much as anyone who's a multimillionaire by her early 20s needs such a thing.
This is Tseng's "homecoming" week, as the LPGA's stop is in her native Taiwan. She won the inaugural Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship in October 2011, near the end of what was a magical year for her. But that seems like a long time ago.
While Tseng was winning practically everything in sight in 2011 -- she had seven victories, two of them majors -- it appeared as if she would never let up. And she started 2012 very strong, with three more LPGA titles.
And then … she ran smack into an invisible wall, the kind of thing that sometimes happens to even the best players in golf. Tseng hasn't won since the Kia Classic on March 25, 2012. This year she has four top-10 finishes and has won just short of $400,000, which is not so bad for an average LPGA pro. But it's far below average for the world's former No. 1 women's golfer.
Tseng held the top ranking for 109 consecutive weeks during 2011-13. But she starts this week at No. 25. Seriously? There are 24 women ranked ahead of Tseng? See what we mean about her needing a positive omen?
And maybe this is it: On the LPGA's "Asian swing" of tournaments this fall, being a so-called "local" has been very good luck twice already.
At the Reignwood LPGA Classic in Beijing on Oct. 6 -- the first official LPGA event on mainland China -- Shanshan Feng had a terrific finish when the bounces went her way. The personable Chinese star delighted her compatriots with a victory, and -- sorry, Stacy Lewis -- the tour couldn't have written a better script for that event to establish itself. (Lewis finished second and wasn't too happy about it.)
Then this past week, the LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship in South Korea went to native Amy Yang in a playoff, the eighth time a Korean player has won that tournament since 2002.
So now that the tour is back in Taiwan, it has to be Tseng's turn to win again, right? Local favorite breaks drought? She certainly hopes so.
Admittedly, between the tournaments in China and South Korea was American Lexi Thompson's victory in Malaysia, so no "local" connection there. But even that could be seen as a positive sign for Tseng, because Thompson had been on a bit of victory slump herself. She had not won since getting her first LPGA title in September 2011.
This year has been a little up-and-down. But every time I come back home, everything is forgotten. I feel a lot of positive thoughts and positive energy here.Yani Tseng
Of course, using "victory slump" in regard to a pro who's only 18 is absurd, but Thompson has been on the scene so long you can forget she is that young.
And realistically, you could say the same about Tseng, who will be 25 in January. How many golfers have done as much in their entire careers, let alone before they've reached the quarter-century mark in life? Tseng's success was so rapid, and her personality so effervescent, fans couldn't help but be swept along in Yani-mania -- especially those in Taiwan, where she is a national heroine.
"I'm always very happy to be back here," Tseng said Tuesday at her news conference in Taiwan. "This year has been a little up-and-down. But every time I come back home, everything is forgotten. I feel a lot of positive thoughts and positive energy here."
The best wishes of the gallery will surround Tseng. But will those be helpful or suffocating? When things began to slip away from her -- that was noticeable as early as May 2012 -- she kept trying to brush it off as "mental issues." She said she had started overthinking on the course and lost her confidence.
But what seemed like a bump in the road then has evolved into a full-fledged detour for Tseng. Lewis was the LPGA Player of the Year in 2012, and the majors were spread among four players.
The 2013 LPGA season has been defined by South Korea's Inbee Park, who won three majors, and Norway's Suzann Pettersen, who led Europe to a Solheim Cup victory, won her second career major and is the defending champion of this week's event.
Is Tseng ready for a turnaround? Or will she still be on the outside of the winner's circle looking in, with just three events left after this one in 2013?
At the China tournament, Tseng was sixth, her best finish since a tie for third in February. But she followed that with a 66th-place finish in Malaysia and a tie for 32nd in South Korea.
"I know I have been through a lot of tough times," Tseng said. "I learned from my mistakes, and I've tried to move on and do my best. I know a lot of people talk about it and give me a lot of pressure. But I try to turn the pressure into motivation."