COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – There was a time when Yani Tseng shied away from socializing on the golf course.
Usually outgoing, the top-ranked Taiwanese golfer was so insecure about her broken English that she would stay away from others in her group at LPGA events, rather than even attempt a conversation.
These days, Tseng’s English has become almost as polished as her golf game.
And with it, even more confidence.
The charismatic and well-spoken Tseng has become the face of women’s golf – a title even bestowed on her by idol and friend Annika Sorenstam.
The 22-year-old is dominating like her childhood hero, too, capturing the LPGA Championship by 10 strokes two weeks ago to become the youngest player to claim four LPGA majors.
This weekend, Tseng can finish off her career grand slam by winning the U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor, a very long and challenging course.
Even with so much at stake, Tseng hardly feels any added pressure.
For that, she can thank Sorenstam, who’s easing her mind by giving her some pointers and tips about the course. Sorenstam won the 1995 U.S. Open at The Broadmoor, the first of her 10 major titles.
“We have good wine and we chat a little bit,” said Tseng, who bought Sorenstam’s house in Florida two years ago and has been quickly filling it up with trophies. “She tells me she enjoys watching me play.”
Especially at majors, where Tseng has typically thrived. Of her eight career LPGA wins, half have been on the biggest of stages.
“I know at a major, you’re not going to be shooting a lot of low scores,” Tseng said. “You just need to be patient. If I make bogeys, no worries.
“If it’s a normal tournament, I worry too much.”
Part of Tseng’s transformation on the course has had to do with her confidence off of it.
No longer does she feel self-conscious in a social setting, especially now with a solid grasp of the language.
Just two years ago, she wasn’t her carefree self, hardly interacting with fans or engaging in banter with her fellow competitors.
She wanted to, but the language barrier made it too difficult.
Tseng has been taking language lessons in Orlando, Fla., which has provided a big boost in self-esteem.
“I like people to talk to me,” Tseng said. “Hopefully now I don’t talk too much.”
Tseng has certainly become the talk of the tour, ruling the sport like Sorenstam once did – maybe even at a greater level. Sorenstam was 24 when she won her first major.
“In the future, I want to be like her,” Tseng said. “She’s done so many great things for golf.”
This week, Tseng is trying to figure out this difficult course, one that’s more than 7,000 yards long, making it the longest ever for a women’s U.S. Open.
The tricky greens that break away from the mountains don’t fluster Tseng.
The thick rough and playing at higher elevation hardly intimidate her, either.
Tseng believes this course favors her game.
These days, what course doesn’t?
But it doesn’t figure to be a cakewalk. The field features reigning champion Paula Creamer, along with ’07 Open winner Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie and Stacy Lewis.
Betsy King will compete in her first tour event in nearly six years after qualifying through sectionals.
At 55, King said her main goal isn’t so much finishing in the top 10 as making the cut, especially given the way Tseng and other up-and-comers are striking the ball.
“(Tseng) hits it a long way and she keeps it in play,” said King, who won the U.S. Open in 1989 and ’90. “From everything that I’ve heard her say and read about her, she obviously wants to be No. 1. She has achieved that.”
Wie is definitely familiar with Tseng’s game. The two met up in the finals of the 2004 Women’s Amateur Public Links Championships, with Tseng winning 1-up.
“She’s gotten, you know, I mean, obviously a lot better,” Wie said. “She has all-around a very solid game, which I think makes her play well.”
Meanwhile, the 21-year-old Wie is still searching for her first win at a major. She insisted the pressure isn’t mounting.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. But that’s really how everyone’s career is going,” Wie said. “I’ve been proud of myself that I kept with it and kept trying to get better.
“Every year, I feel like I’m getting more and more motivated to win and do better, to become a better player.”
The same can be said of Tseng, who’s attempting to boost the profile of women’s golf in Taiwan the same way Se Ri Pak led the way for young golfers in South Korea.
“I’m trying to,” Tseng said. “Because I know Taiwan is not as popular with golf like Korea or Japan or here. I think it’s getting better.”
Her performance and personality are paving the way.
“You never think there is going to be another Mickey Wright or another Annika Sorenstam or Lorena (Ochoa),” Juli Inkster said. “And all of a sudden Yani comes around.
“She’s got a lot of passion for the game. She wants to be the best. She wants to get better. If she stays healthy, she could probably break a lot of Annika’s records.”