Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tim Maitland Profiles Ya Ni Tseng

Ya Ni Tseng: The Birdie Machine Switches into Lower Gear
Tim Maitland

Asian sensation Yani Tseng has set herself an unusual target for the 2010 LPGA season. The 2008 Rookie of the Year and Major winner and fastest player ever to reach US$2 million in prize money wants to stop trying.

Or at least stop trying so hard.

"This year I don't have any expectations. I just really want to enjoy it; really enjoy it. It's really easy to say, but hard to do. But my goal this year is just to really enjoy it. I want to relax and just go and have fun. Relaxed is when I play my best golf. When I'm focused and thinking 'be careful of this be careful of that' I can’t play good," says Tseng, who enters the new campaign with the demeanour of someone who is putting her thoughts into action, particularly when it comes to thoughts of next week’s HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, the place she calls her second home.

"My friends have been sending me messages every day saying, 'I'm so happy you're coming to Singapore,' and I'm happy too. It's a really good course. You're probably going to hit all 14 clubs on that course. And you have to shape the ball. It's not just a straight golf course. You need to stay in focus because if you miss one shot in can get you big time," Ya Ni adds before pausing to consider the fact that each of the previous HSBC Women's Champions winners--Lorena Ochoa and Ji-Yai Shin--have gone on to be dominant players for the rest of the season.

"Then I would love to win in Singapore!" she says, with a characteristic roar of laughter.

"I'm going to win in Singapore!"

The smiles and laughs, the hugs she exchanges with almost every player she encounters at this week’s Honda PTT LPGA Thailand, give no indication that last year Ya Ni faced what she now admits was the first crisis of her golf career.

On face value the 21-year-old from Chinese Taipei did more than enough in 2009 to back up her incredible debut season, which included making her first win a Major at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and winning the 2008 Rookie of the Year award. Her sophomore campaign saw her once again lead the tour in birdies, finish in the top ten of two-thirds of the LPGA's key statistics, record more top 10s than the previous season (14 compared to 10), and win again at the LPGA Corning Classic.

Although she slipped from number two in the world to number five and finished seventh on the money list compared to third 12 months earlier, this was no sophomore slump. But it did catch up with the "Birdie Machine" when a missed cut at the US Women's Open sparked a run of five tournaments where she finished no higher than 20th.

"It's the first time in my life I've felt that golf was really challenging me," Tseng admits candidly.

"Those two months, every tournament I was crying. My tears probably dried out I was crying so hard. I was putting so much pressure on myself. After that, I just wanted to let it go. I didn't care if I dropped to world number 20, I didn't want to care about my status and my rankings. You don't want to care, but you do.

"The tears were frustration. I felt I was working hard, I should be at this point," she said raising her hand high.

"And I was still playing bad. I was crying so hard because I think I was putting too much pressure on myself. It was all my pressure."

The key to getting out of her funk was a chat with world number one Lorena Ochoa, which encouraged her to communicate more clearly with her family and friends about her needs, and three phone conversations with Texas-based sports psychologist Dr. Deborah Graham.

"At that time, when my swing was good, my mental[ity] was off. When my mental[ity] was good, my swing was off. They wouldn't match. I was thinking too much about the results. She just told me don't think about the result. She told me to mark the number of shots where I committed to hit the shot. So now I'm focusing on committing to hit the shot, not focusing on the result. It works pretty good. Now I have an idea of how not to think about the result." Yani explains.

"I started thinking, every time I missed a putt, how many more chances will you have to make that putt in the future? Probably a thousand million! So, if you don't make it today, you'll make it tomorrow, and if you don't make it tomorrow, you'll make it at the next tournament, and if you don't make it this year, you'll make it next year."

Despite such trying times, Tseng regards her time of torture with a fondness, a trial she underwent and a test she passed. In a nutshell, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

"Now I look back, I think it was a really good thing. If I didn't go through those two months I wouldn't have learned that much. The last five tournaments I was top ten. But those two months, I learned a lot of things and it was a good experience. If you never go down, you won’t go up!

"I was just trying too hard; trying too hard to be perfect. But you don't have to try so hard, just do your job," she says with a grin.


Nice to see Ya Ni extend her top-10 streak to 6 events, going back to last season, with her T3 in Thailand last week! It looked like she had a lot of fun playing with her friend Momoko Ueda in the final round.


courtgolf said...

I have never bought into this idea of professionals just "having fun" out there - that's something for Joe (or Jane) Amateur - but I hope taking a little edge off of the expectations translates into good finishes and wins. She's a lot of fun to watch - one of the few gamblers on the LPGA Tour.

Unknown said...

A little extra... Yani is using Dave Poitevant for the first four events while her regular caddie studies English. Dave's quite a loose, even-tempered veteran... could be just what Yani needs for the short term. Let's see how she gets on this week.

The Constructivist said...

CG, I think when you read the article carefully you'll see she's really talking about not getting wrapped up in things she can't control, like what the ball does after it leaves her club or how her scores stack up against her competition. Perfectionism is great when you're practicing, but you have to let things go when you're competing. She has a long career ahead of her and there's no need to get super-down on herself over every little thing that happens during a tournament.

Tim, thanks for the update!