Yani Tseng joked that she’s making it easy on family and friends again.
Four days after tying for second in Thailand, she is atop the leaderboard after the first round of the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, posting a 6-under-par 66 to share the lead with Inbee Park.
“My friends and my parents, going to the website, they don’t have to scroll down to see my name,” Tseng said, beaming with a large smile following the round. “They can see [me] right on the top of the first page.”
For family and friends, seeing Tseng’s smile, hearing her laugh after Thursday’s round, may be just as welcome as seeing her name in contention again. It’s been a long, hard road since she lost the Rolex world No. 1 ranking almost two years ago.
“It’s fun, it’s so much fun,” Tseng said of being in contention.
For her new coach back in the United States, Tseng’s reaction to their work is also a welcome sight. Claude Harmon told Tseng there will be bad swings, bad shots and bad days, but her talent will win out. She best serves that talent, he said, simplifying a game that has become all too complicated for her.
“I’d be shocked if Yani doesn’t win this year,” Harmon told GolfChannel.com. “I told her when we started working, `I can help you get your golf swing back. That’s the easy part.’ You can’t have the talent she has and not get back to the top of the game. She just needs to believe. She needs to believe she can be a great player again.”
Harmon, son to Butch Harmon, began working with Tseng in January. His work with Tseng has been focused more on removing what’s in Tseng’s head than adding to it.
“To be quite frank, she’s been kind of lost,” Harmon said. “She’s been searching, and she hasn’t had a lot of confidence.”
Since losing the No. 1 world ranking in March of 2013, Tseng has been bouncing around in a desperate search to regain her winning form, going from one instructor to another, from one idea to another. Harmon says in her eagerness to excel again, Tseng has filled her head with too many ideas.
“She’s been trying to make her swing so technical,” Harmon said. “She got into a rut where she was searching. She was listening to a lot of different people, and if something didn’t work, she wouldn’t really give it a chance. She was trying a bunch of different stuff.
“I’ve learned from my father, if you’re going to play competitive golf at the highest level, you’ve got to make it as simple as possible. A lot of times players, when they struggle, the worse they hit it, the more complicated they try to make things.”
Simplifying continues to be Harmon’s theme with Tseng.
“We are making slight technical changes to her golf swing, but I’m just trying to take as much clutter out of her brain as possible,” Harmon said. “Every text message, I tell her, `Turn your brain off and go play golf.’ It’s not supposed to be difficult, but when you struggle, there’s so much information out there to find now, TrackMan and 3D. There is so much technical information that’s become part of the vernacular.
“I believe you can’t play golf swing. You have to play golf, and Yani has been playing golf swing a couple years now, where she’s out there working on her swing in tournaments.”
Tseng and Harmon didn’t get off to the most promising start this year. The first time Tseng teed it up in an LPGA event after going to work with Harmon, she shot 79 at the Women’s Australian Open. She followed that up with an 82 and missed the cut, but they kept focused on simplifying.
This is back-to-back weeks now, though, that Tseng has a share of the first-round lead in an LPGA event. She also shot 66 in the first round in Thailand last week.
“All she can do is give herself chances,” Harmon said. “I told her, `All you’ve got to try to do is get yourself back in the hunt. There will be times you play well, and you won’t win, and there will be times you won’t play as well, and you will win.’ You’ve just got to be there. She just hasn’t been in the hunt, but she’s going to be fine.”
Tseng, 26, has won 15 LPGA titles, five of them majors, but she’s looking for her first LPGA title since winning the Kia Classic three years ago. She seemed to lose her winning mojo almost overnight back in 2012, when she won three times in five weeks at year’s start before going winless since.
At her best, Tseng won seven LPGA titles in 2011, with 14 top-10 finishes. She had just two top-10 finishes last year.
Harmon has been working with Tseng on her takeaway and position at the top of her backswing.
“We’ve been trying to get her clubface in a little more neutral position and her posture in a little better position,” Harmon said. “She tends to get a little closed and shut at the top.”
“But I said to Yani, 'Listen, you can play from a slightly closed position, and as long as you stay aggressive and keep your body moving, you can play quite well.’ I think more of what we are doing is just trying to rebuild her confidence.”
When Tseng was at her best, her smile was almost unnerving to her competitors.
“It’s kind of scary,” Na Yeon Choi once said of Tseng’s smile. “She never looks nervous, or as if there’s pressure on her.”
Harmon, like everyone else, watched Tseng lose that.
“It was very evident she wasn’t having any fun on the golf course,” he said. “She wasn’t having any fun practicing, and she was probably practicing too much. I’ve had real frank conversations with her, just telling her everything’s going to be OK.
“Like I said, I’d be shocked if she doesn’t win once or twice this year and give herself chances to win.”