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Below the surface

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Yani Tseng knows Annika Sorenstam. The world’s current No. 1 player lives in the former house of the first-ever No. 1 player. She considers her a mentor. They speak glowingly of each other.

Call it a League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen type of connection.

There’s little doubt that in the wake of being offered a sponsor’s exemption into next season’s Puerto Rico Open on the PGA Tour, Tseng will consult with Sorenstam, who famously competed against the men at Colonial back in 2003. Though she didn’t make the cut, Sorenstam acquitted herself well, posting scores of 71-74, while impacting both the game and her career in ways unseen on the scorecard.

“It wasn’t about the score. It was about the journey to get there and the preparation,” Sorenstam told Golf Channel's “Morning Drive” on Thursday. “I had some great years after the Colonial. I think it prepared me for those things. For me to tee it up at Colonial with all those people there, I told myself that there’s nothing ever that’s going to be like this in my life. If I can handle this, I feel like I can handle anything.”

If Yani can reach even a fraction of the fulfillment that Annika derived from playing in a PGA Tour event, she should do it. Far too often, the biggest question surrounding a woman competing with the world’s best men – whether it’s Sorenstam, Michelle Wie or anyone else – is that of, “How will she fare?” Instead, that should be a secondary query after, “What was her impact?” and “Was she able to measure herself against the best competition?”

It appears Tseng understands that concept already. When asked last week to name her main motivation for such an appearance, she stated, “I wouldn’t care about the results, because I’d just want to enjoy the feeling of playing with guys and learning from them to further improve my skills.”

While it wouldn’t be about the results – let’s face it; we shouldn’t expect immediate success from anyone competing in their first PGA Tour event, regardless of gender – Tseng would certainly want to ensure that she picked a venue on which she could at least show off her talents.

After all, that was a priority for Sorenstam, too.

“Colonial stood out for so many reasons,” she recalled. “I just really felt like that golf course would fit my game. It’s not the longest golf course. It puts a premium on the driving, a premium on approach shots, smaller greens – which is kind of what I like. … Everything just kind of fell into place.”

And therein lies the problem for the current Rolex Ranking leader.

In her prime, Sorenstam was a ball-striker extraordinaire, a fairways-and-greens machine who rarely made unforced errors. Tseng is a much different type of player. She is the LPGA’s resident mad bomber, currently averaging 267.9 yards per drive to lead the tour.

While that number blows away her female cohorts, it would rank two yards behind the last of 186 measured players on the PGA Tour this season and 23 yards behind the mean. In short, her driving distance would go from being her greatest asset to her largest detriment.

Also unlike Sorenstam, Tseng fails to find the fairway on a somewhat regular basis. Her driving accuracy of 64.8 percent would rank 60th on the PGA Tour.

Put those numbers together and you’ll realize that Tseng may need a short, wide open course on which to succeed against male competition. Only one problem: That type of venue hardly exists on the PGA Tour schedule.

Puerto Rico Open host course Trump International Golf Club won’t include the game’s upper echelon, who will instead be teeing it up in a WGC event at Doral that week, but it does measure 7,569 yards, which is more than 1,000 yards longer than the average LPGA track. As if that number alone isn’t enough to dissuade her, there are six par-4 holes of 448 yards or longer and two par-5s that are at least 600 yards, including the 630-yard finisher.

At this year’s edition of the tournament, six players in the final top 10 averaged more than 300 yards per drive for the week, while none was below the 285 mark. Those power numbers simply don’t exist on the LPGA.

Should Tseng decide to compete in a PGA Tour event, her eyes may not be on the winner’s prize, but if she listens to Sorenstam’s advice, then finding a course which suits her game should be of the utmost priority.

It makes perfect sense. Just as a strong result – like Sorenstam’s valiant effort at Colonial eight years ago – can attract more fans to the women’s game, a poor performance can serve as a detractor, a reason for the next woman to rethink such an option when it is proposed.

Of course, just because the perfect venue for her game does not exist, that may not be enough to keep Tseng from giving it a shot. If – or perhaps when – she picks Sorenstam’s brain for guidance, comments like the following may be too impactful to ignore.

“Just the experience – interacting with the guys, interacting with the fans – everything was just amazing,” she said. “And that’s why I think about it a lot. It really changed my career, changed me as a person and I have a lot to feel thankful for from that week.”

Yani Tseng has the opportunity to feel the same way. It won’t be an easy decision – one that may be exacerbated by a lack of the ideal scenario – but let’s hope she comes to her conclusion for the right reasons, not the wrong ones..