Yani Tseng’s life couldn’t be better. Now, let’s talk

I was honored that the four biggest newspapers in Taiwan traveled to Thailand to report on my play.
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When I was preparing for the new season I knew there were huge expectations for me to play well. Last year I won two majors, the Kraft Nabisco and the Women’s British Open, and became the youngest player to win three major championships. (I won the LPGA Championship during my rookie year, in 2008.) It was a huge honor to be awarded 2010 LPGA Player of the Year.

This year I had the pressure of playing my way to No. 1 in the world, which has been a dream of mine since I was 12. Another goal is winning this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, which, at 22, would make me the youngest player (male or female) to win a career Grand Slam. These are big deals, and there was only one person I could talk to who would understand.

I went to see former No. 1 Annika Sorenstam, who is not only my friend but also my role model. We met at her house in Florida in January, and I asked her for advice on how to handle the pressure. She told me that I can’t be afraid and need to embrace the opportunity.

Annika’s advice was helpful. I won my first four starts in 2011, and now I’m No. 1 in the Rolex World Rankings. In January I defended my title at the Taifong Ladies Open, an LPGA of Taiwan event. My mother, Yu-Yun Yang, was caddying for me, which made the victory even more special. A few weeks later I traveled to Australia to defend my title at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and I won by seven shots. Before the final round I got an e-mail from Annika that said, “Great playing in Australia. Keep up the good work and bring it home.” The next week I won the ANZ RACV Ladies Masters and moved to the top of the world ranking. I followed that up two weeks ago with a victory at the LPGA opener, in Thailand.

While I was there I was excited and proud that all four big newspapers from my native country of Taiwan covered the tournament. The local media gave me the nickname Queen of Golf. I laughed and said, “Thank you, but I don’t think I’m there yet—I need to continue to work hard.”

I feel honored to have a friend like Annika. At the 2008 Women’s British Open she predicted that I would be No. 1 in four years. When the media told me what she said, I thought it was a joke. When I found out they were serious, I was in shock—my idol believed I was going to be No. 1.

Since I was 12 I wanted to be like Annika and play with her on the LPGA tour. Watching her on TV inspired me to practice and work hard to achieve my goals.

I actually live in Annika’s old house at Lake Nona in Orlando. When I first saw the house in January 2009, I knew right away that I wanted to buy it. I think that’s because it made me feel closer to Annika, who now lives about 300 yards down the street.

I went through a minislump for about two months in 2009 after I missed the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open. When I became No. 1, I looked back to that time when I felt frustrated and shed many tears. I felt I had all the tools, but there was something missing in my game.

During my postseason meeting with my team, I expressed a desire to get advice from Annika. However, I was too nervous to approach her, so my longtime adviser, Ernie Huang, reached out to her. Annika even offered to walk to my house. Over a bottle of good red wine, we talked for 2 1/2 hours. It was extremely generous of her to share her experiences with me, and to learn from the best player in the world was inspiring.

Annika chatted about putting the pieces together for success. She advised me to identify my strengths and weaknesses. Then I could work on my weaknesses and complete the puzzle. We discussed setting short-term goals, which were winning tournaments and improving my overall putting and driving-accuracy stats, along with long-term goals, such as winning Grand Slams and qualifying for the Hall of Fame. Annika also reminded me to focus on what I could control, such as staying in my own routine, and always being excited about the opportunity to compete. After Annika left that evening, I locked myself in the library and went through the notes I had taken. I was immersed in trying to understand and digest Annika’s advice.

My playing style is different from Annika’s—I’m more aggressive—but she has helped me a lot with the mental side of the game. I reached a turning point at last year’s Women’s British Open, where I overcame the pressure of going into the final round with the lead and won.

Annika sent me an e-mail the night before the final round, saying, “Great to see you on top of the leader board. That is were you belong. Keep up the good work, trust your ability and have fun!” I wrote these words in my yardage book. That Sunday at Royal Birkdale, I walked away with more than the trophy—I gained the confidence to truly believe I knew how to win and get to the next level mentally.

Annika is such a classy player and person, and I aspire to be like her not only inside the ropes but also outside them. I think giving back is important, so I’m looking forward to the Founders Cup (March 18-20, in Phoenix). The LPGA founders gave us a stage to show our talents and fulfill our dreams of playing golf professionally.

The Founders Cup will be another opportunity for me to connect with fans and share my story. I don’t think most people know that I can speak English. Obviously, there are many Asians on the LPGA tour, and it’s hard for fans to know who can speak English. I want American fans to know they can talk to me in English. I’m happy to have conversations and interact with them. I learned to speak English mostly by talking and listening to people when I turned pro and moved to the U.S. (I was 18 but had spent summers in America since I was 12.) I’m fearless, so I’m not afraid to talk with anyone, even if my English isn’t perfect.

During the short off-season last December, I took a one-month English class, which was really fun. I learned a lot and improved my grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. I wish I could go back because I hope to perfect my English language skills, but I probably will have to wait until the end of the year.

I want to communicate better with fans, tell them how I played, about my plans for the season and convey how I’m feeling. I’d like to show them my personality. If you can’t tell, I’m outgoing and bubbly, but I have a sensitive side too. I turned 22 in January, but I still want to be a good role model for younger people and junior golfers—just like Annika.

I’m living my dream and enjoying being No. 1—even though it still seems a little unreal—but I’m going to continue working hard because I want to finish the year atop the ranking. Now that I am No. 1 it’s interesting to think back to the low points.

I can’t wait to return to Orlando. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see Annika when I get back, so I can thank her personally.

The Tseng File
Age: 22

Homeland: Taiwan

Career highlights: Three-time major winner, including last year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship and the Women’s British Open.

Did you know? Turned down a $25 million endorsement from a company in China last year because it came with the stipulation that she change her citizenship to Chinese.

The latest: Has vaulted to No. 1 in the Rolex World Rankings on the strength of four straight victories on multiple tours in 2011, including the first event of the LPGA season.