Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How Ya Ni Tseng and Suzann Pettersen Are Preparing for the Wegmans LPGA Championship

I got a chance to talk briefly with Ya Ni Tseng at Locust Hill's putting green and Suzann Pettersen as she was leaving its driving range in the early evening yesterday. What they told me about how they're preparing for the LPGA's 2nd major of the year was actually pretty revealing--about the strengths and weaknesses of their games, about what they anticipate the biggest challenges will be this week for them, and about how much planning and effort goes into fine-tuning 2 of the hottest players on the planet right now.

For Tseng, her key will be keeping her driver in play and on the fairway as much as possible. With her length, she can give herself a lot of birdie chances if she hits her irons as well as she has been this season. But the big question mark for her is whether she can go from a win 2 weeks ago at the wide-open Panther Creek Country Club to one at Locust Hill, which features super-narrow fairways, trees in play on virtually every hole, and rough that's getting tougher by the minute (as the rain falls as intensely now as it has all morning). The other key for her yesterday was working on her putting, focusing especially on getting the speed of the greens down. Hopefully that'll come in handy when the rains take the weekend off and the greens dry off again (knock wood).

For Pettersen, who as I already mentioned was on the driving range working on her 3/4 wedges, the focus is on controlling the shape and trajectory of her irons and approach shots--and being as precise as possible with her 80 yards and in game. Even though she's been putting a lot better this season than in recent ones, she's barely in Hound Dog's top 40 in total putting, as compared to 7th in driving and 1st in greens in regulation. Basically, she's honing the true strength of her game--her accuracy with her irons--knowing she can count on her driving and hoping to take as much pressure off her putting and chipping as possible.

It may sound funny that Pettersen, who's been reaching the fairway this season 76.8% of the time, and Tseng, who's been doing the same a fantastic 71.1% of the time--both of whom are contending to take Annika's and Lorena's mantles as straight-up bombers (Tseng is averaging over 271 yards off the tee while Pettersen is approaching 262)--have such different approaches to honing their long games. But I think each has taken the approach that's right for her--and right for the course conditions as they were experiencing them on Monday and Tuesday. With fast and firm and hilly fairways, it's easy for Tseng's drives to go all over the lot. And with fast and firm and undulating greens, it's difficult for even someone who's as pure with her irons as Pettersen to consistently put it close to the pin.

I think both players I talked to yesterday are secretly rejoicing at today's rains. Anything that makes Locust Hill's fairways and greens easier to hit yet makes the course longer for the tour's precision players works to their benefit. They're going off the 1st tee in back-to-back groups Thursday morning--Tseng with Ai Miyazato and Juli Inkster at 9:05 am and Pettersen with Paula Creamer and Sandra Gal at 9:16--so as long as they don't run into conditions or delays strikingly different from what the afternoon pairings have to deal with, look for them to have a big advantage!

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