Smiling Through Struggles, Yani Tseng Seeks a Rebound

Tuesday March 11th, 2014
Yani Tseng

Yani Tseng Yani Tseng of Taiwan, Lydia Ko of New Zealand and Natalie Gulbis at Lake Merced Golf Club in San Francisco. (Credit: AP)


It’s not as if Yani Tseng needs a big break, but there she stood on Monday, punching six-irons on the range at Lake Merced Golf Club, just south of San Francisco, trying to shatter a glass glass target like a contestant on that Golf Channel reality show.
The Taiwanese-born star was taking aim as part of a friendly competition against fellow pros Lydia Ko and Natalie Gulbis, who stood beside Tseng, firing at glass targets of their own. All three had swung through town to help promote the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, to be held at Lake Merced from April 21-27, and this shootout was just another stunt to entertain the crowd.
Tseng has fond memories of Lake Merced, having passed through the final stage of qualifying here in 2005 en route to the playing in Women’s U.S. Open.
But those celebratory moments now seem so long ago. Back then, Tseng was just beginning her meteoric rise, a rocket shot that would eventually propel her to five major wins before the age of 23 -- the youngest golfer, male or female, to ever pull off the feat. Tseng was named LPGA Player of the Year in 2010 and 2011 and went on to spend 109 straight weeks atop the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, until...
The wheels didn’t exactly come off, but they wobbled. Once a heavy favorite every time she teed it up, Tseng ran into a prolonged slump. Her last LPGA win came in March of 2012. She has since dropped to 44th in the Rolex rankings.
“The last time I was at this course, the holes looked shorter and the fairways looked wider," Tseng said with a laugh. "Everything looked shorter and wider then.”
Unlike some other stars, Tseng, 25, has managed to smile through the hard times, often softening her struggles with self-deprecating humor. She’s actually fields questions instead of fending them off.
“I trying to enjoy my life, to appreciate what I have,” Tseng said. “Not just enjoy some things. Enjoy everything. I want to be happy, not just with a smile on my face but with a smile in my heart.”
It hasn't been easy. For a long, draining year, Tseng said, “golf wasn’t fun at all.” She was pressing, she said, burdened by expectations, not all of them her own. The same approachability that helped make her so popular also left her vulnerable.
“I care about what people think,” she said. “I’d be worrying about the fans. I’d be worrying about the media. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, but really what I needed to do was worry more about myself.”
As with Tiger Woods, her polar opposite in personality, Tseng’s woes have been largely her own doing: she set a standard that’s pretty much impossible to maintain.
“If I didn’t finish in the top 10, people would start to ask if I was struggling,” Tseng said. “Maybe it’s my fault because for a while I made it look easy.”
Though it’s been two years since she last hoisted a trophy, Tseng said she’s starting to feel good about her game again.
On the Lake Merced range, the glass-breaking competition got under way, with each pro joined by a pair of amateur partners.
“We’ve got a side bet on this,” Gulbis said.
With dinner at the next LPGA Tour stop on the line, Gulbis swung and missed her target by a whisker. Ko was the first to shatter the glass. But Tseng, after tugging her first few attempts, quickly found her range and reeled off three consecutive glass-shattering shots.
When all was said and done, she was declared the winner. Just like old times.
“It’s easy to focus on results,” Tseng said. “What I’m trying to do now is focus on the process. I see progress on the range. The next step is to try to bring that toward the course.”
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