ORLANDO, Fla. – Yani Tseng has a tradition on Chinese New Year to give her house a thorough cleaning. She decided to start with the trophy cabinet, which was no small project. A photo she posted on Facebook shows a cabinet crowded with crystal.
The 23-year-old from Taiwan already has won five majors, the most of any golfer that age.
She is coming off a blockbuster season in which she won 12 times around the world, including the first four tournaments she played. She earned nearly $3 million on the LPGA Tour last year, more than the next two players combined. And she is No. 1 in the world by a large margin that only Tiger Woods could ever appreciate.
Tseng left her home at Lake Nona on Friday for what figures to be a tough encore.
“If I do the things I’m doing now, I think I will get better,” Tseng said. “I’ve been working on my swing, the physical side, I work on my English, everything. I think it’s going to help a lot. I need to do the mental and prepare and not put too much pressure on myself. It’s hard to do again. Twelve wins. Wow.”
Tseng will be defending her title when the LPGA season gets under way next week with the Women’s Australian Open, to be played at Royal Melbourne just three months after the Presidents Cup.
Only two other women have won more in one season – Annika Sorenstam in 2002, who won 11 times on the LPGA and twice in Europe; and Mickey Wright in 1963, who won 13 times on the LPGA.
About the only thing Tseng lacks is attention.
In voting by sports editors for The Associated Press female athlete of the year, Tseng finished a distant fourth behind U.S. soccer players Abby Wambach and Hope Solo and UConn basketball star Maya Moore.
Golf magazine made U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy its player of the year, prompting LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan to write the magazine a mild rebuke, pointing out Tseng’s accomplishments in 2011 and suggesting that if her record had belonged to a male golfer, it would have been an easy choice. The magazine published his letter.
“It just felt like 1985 when I read that,” Whan said. “I like Rory. He’s a fun kid to watch. He’s like a young Tiger. He collapsed at the Masters, he had an unbelievable U.S. Open. I got that. But are we that much in a hurry to anoint the next one? She would never ask me to do that. I don’t think she cares. She just smiles and hits it 285.”
Women’s golf has struggled to get attention. Even after Sorenstam won 13 times in 2002, it took her playing in the Colonial – the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour – before she became a one-name star.
Tseng is coming off a year that attracted that kind of attention. The Puerto Rico Open on the PGA Tour offered her an exemption, but Tseng turned it down. She won’t rule out a shot on the PGA Tour, though she has more she wants to achieve.
“She hits it like a guy,” Juli Inkster said.
Tseng doesn’t behave like a PGA Tour player, though. At the season-ending Titleholders last November in Orlando, she invited the media to her home for a party, which she organized herself.
“I just feel I want to give something back,” Tseng said. “The media is working hard to promote the LPGA. And I’m from Asia; I’m not American. Sometimes it’s very tough for you guys. It’s not easy. I just feel like everyone is working hard, and we should have a party to celebrate the end of the year. Just have fun.”
At one point during the party, when the conversation turned to Universal Studios, Tseng went to her room and returned wearing a Harry Potter costume.
The attention she receives at home is entirely different.
Whan was in Taiwan last year for the LPGA Taiwan Championship at Sunrise, a course near where Tseng grew up. The gallery was enormous, filling up space on every hole. The pressure was as intense as it had been all year, even when Tseng won the Women’s British Open at Carnoustie or the LPGA Championship, her two majors.
She wound up winning by five shots.
But it was a pre-tournament party that Whan remembers the most.
“It was spooky. It was Michael Jordan, Game 7 kind of stuff,” he said. “You couldn’t move. They had to stop letting people in. They do this thing where somebody says something, and if they point a glass at you, you drink. Everybody was pointing the glass at Yani. She’s playing tomorrow and I’m thinking, ‘I need to get her out of here.’
“And she won it going away,” he said. “Most players would have felt an unbelievable burden. She looked like she was going to a wedding. She looked the same as if you’d see her in an airport flying home from the British. There’s not a lot of highs and lows with her. She just smiles her way through everything.”
Tseng’s first LPGA win was a major, the LPGA Championship in 2008 when she was a 19-year-old rookie. She recalls a time when she stressed over every bogey, every missed putt. That’s when she picked up some advice from Sorenstam, her hero.
“The end of my second year, I talked to Annika, and she helped me set goals,” Tseng said. “My first question was, ‘How can I be No. 1?’ Annika said, ‘You can’t think of No. 1. If you want to be No. 1, you have to win more tournaments. How do you win more tournaments? You have the lowest score. How do you make lowest score? Hit on fairway, hit on green. And that’s how you work.”’
She worked hard enough to become LPGA player of the year the last two seasons and No. 1 in the world by a mile.
Tseng is playing the first three weeks in Australia, Thailand and Singapore. The LPGA’s domestic schedule does not start until March in Arizona. If there is one tournament on her mind already, it’s the U.S. Women’s Open, the major keeping her from a career Grand Slam.
'I would not say it’s my goal,” she said. But then she smiled and added, “But it’s always what I’m thinking about.”
She surely would find room in the trophy cabinet for that one.