Tseng brings killer instinct but with a smile

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PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Her smile is trouble.

If you’re a fellow LPGA pro, Rolex World No. 1 Yani Tseng can wobble your knees with her smile.

“My coach told me, `Smile to the game and the game will smile to you,’” Tseng said Wednesday as she prepared to defend her title at the Wegmans LPGA Championship at Locust Hill Country Club. “So that’s kind of my goal this week, try not to think too much, and not try too hard.”

Nobody plays with more joy than Tseng.

If the LPGA counted smiles per round, Tseng would lead that stat, too.

Her smile is good for the women’s game, but not necessarily for the rest of the women who play the game.

World No. 2 Na Yeon Choi says she finds it disconcerting to look over at Tseng with the pressure ratcheting up and seeing her smile as she goes into her pre-shot routine.

“It’s kind of scary,” Choi said. “She never looks nervous, or as if there’s pressure on her.”

Yeah, Tseng has her low moments, times when the game gets her down, times when that smile can’t be summoned, but she is learning to manage those moments as she grows more comfortable carrying the Rolex World No. 1 ranking.

“People don’t realize the game is more attitude than anything,” said Gary Gilchrist, Tseng’s coach. “I think a lot of girls go into a tournament with a lot of negativity. They’re not smiling on the game. That attracts all kinds of things.”

Tseng shouldn’t have trouble finding her smile at the Wegmans LPGA Championship this week, and yet Locust Hill crystallizes the challenge Tseng faces this year.

At season’s start, Tseng confessed to Gilchrist that she was stressing out over expectations. How in the world was she going to top last year? How was she going to follow up a year when she won 12 times around the world, seven of them LPGA events, two of them major championships?

Gilchrist told her a jockey can’t win a horse race if he’s always looking at what’s behind him. They talked about realistic goals, managing expectations, accepting that preparation and effort is enough, and you can’t always control luck.

“Yani, you’re a human being,” Gilchrist told her. “You’re not a machine.”

Those lessons are all in play again this week with Tseng returning to the major she won by a whopping 10 shots.

How do you top that? How do you equal last year’s runaway performance. She is staring down the same kind of questions she faced at year’s start.

“It’s hard to say I have no pressure, because there is pressure,” Tseng said. “I just try to turn that pressure into positive pressure, just to enjoy that pressure.”

Tseng overcame that stress she struggled with at year’s start. She was able to relax more after her sessions with Gilchrist, and she won three of her first five LPGA starts. But after falling short at the Kraft Nabisco again this spring, her focus is on getting her game back to the level it takes to win a major. At 23, she is still the youngest player to hold five major championship titles. She wants to become the youngest to six this week.

With a sluggish practice round Tuesday, Tseng didn’t feel great about her game. She’s coming off a T-12 finish in her last start at the Shoprite Classic. That, by the way, is the only time she hasn’t finished in the top 10 in nine events this season. Tseng, though, said she felt good about her work Wednesday.

“I feel my game is there and ready to go,” Tseng said.

That’s something Tseng can smile about, if not her competition.