Yani Tseng putting together a special year
Yani Tseng's 2011 LPGA season probably will not finish as the greatest in women's professional golf history -- at least by number of victories -- but she's getting close enough to fuel a dandy debate.
When Tseng, the 22-year-old world No. 1 from Taiwan, won Sunday's NW Arkansas Championship in a playoff over Amy Yang, it was her fifth LPGA title this year.
Although that number moves Tseng into an elite group of players with five or more victories in a single season, she remains a long way from the record 13 collected by Mickey Wright in 1963. Wright also won 11 times in 1964, and Annika Sorenstam matched that number in 2002.
But in addition to five LPGA titles, Tseng has won three international events. And not to be overlooked, two of her eight worldwide victories in 2011 are majors -- the LPGA Championship and the Women's British Open.
Seven official events remain on the LPGA schedule.
"Very exciting," Tseng said during the winner's post-tournament press conference.
"I'm very, very excited. I almost cry because today, like in the middle of the round, I felt like, 'Oh, I'm going to lose today because in my mind I don't feel excitement, I don't make any birdies.' But I just [was] telling myself I need to get excited, need more focused, try to stretch, move around, just feel more. Like the last three holes, I made some birdies so that was very important for me."
Tseng, who finished 12 under, began Sunday tied with Yang for the lead, and both players carded matching final-round 68s at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Ark. On the first playoff hole, the par-5 18th, Yang reached the green in two, while Tseng's second shot skirted just over the green on the fringe. Both putted their third shots, which came within 6 feet of the cup, but Yang missed her birdie while Tseng converted to defend her title.
Tseng now has won five of the 10 times she has led or co-led entering the final round on the LPGA. She went 0-for-4 in 2008 and 2009 to start her career, but is 5-for-6 since, her only loss coming at this year's Kraft Nabisco Championship.
New hair, old woes
Michelle Wie arrived for her week in Arkansas with a new look -- bright red hair.
When asked about the decision, the 21-year-old Stanford senior said she just wanted to shake things up a bit.
"I wanted to go red for a while, kind of wanted to change it up a little bit," Wie said. "Haven't done anything drastic to my hair for a long time. I didn't want to cut it, so I guess dyeing was the way to go."
Wie, who was coming off a recent runner-up finish in the Canadian Women's Open, was unable to build on the success. She missed the cut after an opening-day 78.
It's hard to say what the U.S. Solheim Cup team took out of the week: Juli Inkster, Ryann O'Toole, Christina Kim, Vicky Hurst and Wie missed the cut. However, Cristie Kerr (fourth), Paula Creamer (tied for eighth), Stacy Lewis (tied for eighth) and Brittany Lincicome (tied for 10th) finished in the top 10.
Kerr, as usual, was nothing but optimistic.
"I'm very excited Solheim Cup is in a couple weeks; I've been playing well," Kerr said during the week. "These next couple of events are going to be the time where we all jell together as a team, get to know one another and see what matchups work well and don't."
Kerr has made five previous Solheim Cup appearances and boasts an impressive résumé that includes a 2-1-1 record for her winning squad in 2009.
Inkster, the veteran
Inkster will be playing in her ninth Solheim Cup when the U.S. meets Europe later this month at Killeen Castle in Ireland. The difference between this year and previous experiences will be Inkster wearing two caps -- player and assistant captain.
It's the first time in Solheim Cup history that an assistant captain will also play.
For Inkster, balancing multiple roles is nothing new. In nearly 30 years on the LPGA Tour, the LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member has spent the majority of that time finding a balance between being a mom and a player. She is looked up to by many of her teammates on this year's U.S. Solheim Cup team and has helped with what she termed a "player personnel role" heading into this year's event.
Inkster was asked what she thinks is the strength of this year's team.
"I think it's heart," Inkster said. "We've got a lot of young, fiery kids that love to play golf and love to compete. That's going to be our edge."
Tseng has worked hard to become fluent in English since joining the LPGA, so she can consider her visit to the NW Arkansas Championship an educational experience.
Tseng played with local favorite Lewis during Saturday's second round, and fans cheered on the former Arkansas Razorbacks four-time All-American with calls of "Woo pig, sooie!"
It didn't take long for Tseng to ask why the gallery was screaming, "Woo, woo?"
Told it was "pig, sooie," she had another inquiry: "What's 'pig, sooie'?"
"Yeah, they don't understand that outside the U.S.," she said. "Or inside the U.S."
By the numbers
• 2.11 million: LPGA dollars earned this year by leading money winner Tseng.
• 1.3 million: LPGA dollars earned by No. 2 money leader Kerr.
• 64: Low score of the week, posted by Germany native Sandra Gal, whose 7-under final round moved her from a tie for 37th to a tie for fifth.
• 6: Shots over par after 36 holes by two-time U.S. Women's Amateur champ Danielle Kang, who missed the cut in her professional debut.
Ready for next year
Ten Futures Tour players earned 2012 LPGA Tour membership Sunday by finishing in the top 10 on the season-ending money list.
This year's LPGA Futures Tour graduates are, in order of finish: 1) Kathleen Ekey of Sharon Township, Ohio; 2) Lisa Ferrero of Lodi, Calif.; 3) Mo Martin of Altadena, Calif.; 4) Sydnee Michaels of Temecula, Calif.; 5) Jane Rah of Torrance, Calif.; 6) Tiffany Joh of San Diego; 7) Valentine Derrey of Paris; 8) Hanna Kang of Seoul, South Korea; 9) Jenny Gleason of Clearwater, Fla.; and 10) Tzu-Chi Lin of Chinese Taipei.