Yani Tseng attended her first U.S. Women’s Open as a 13-year-old in Hutchinson, Kan. She walked outside the ropes in the relentless Midwestern sun and told her American host, Ernie Huang, that she wanted to play: “I feel I can beat some of these girls.”
Nine years later, the U.S. Women’s Open is the only major trophy to elude Tseng, who rose to No. 1 in the world Feb. 13 after back-to-back victories in Australia.
“I wasn’t expecting it as quickly as this,” said Tseng, who beat Stacy Lewis and Nikki Campbell by four strokes Feb. 13 at the ANZ RACV Ladies Masters. “I still have another 10 months to go.”
Tseng, 22, won Player of the Year honors in 2010 off the strength of three victories, including two majors. Still, she ended the season No. 5 in the Rolex Rankings.
Tseng’s drive to be the world’s best started young. Huang, a Taiwanese transplant who continues to advise Tseng, researched USGA events after that week in Hutchinson, and the following summer signed her up for a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier. She lost to Paula Creamer in the second round, but wrote Huang a thank-you note before going home. Tseng drew pictures of herself holding the U.S. Open and Women’s Amateur trophies with her name inscribed on each. In the card, she wrote: “I am world champion. I can do it.”
Tseng’s rise to No. 1 was quick given that she will begin her fourth year on tour this week when the LPGA starts its season in Thailand. She’ll have plenty of competition from those who jockeyed for the pole position last season: Jiyai Shin (26 weeks), Ai Miyazato (11 weeks) and Cristie Kerr (5 weeks).
Only six players have held the top spot since the rankings were introduced Feb. 21, 2006.
Tseng is No. 6 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and a quick look at head-to-head records explains why. She’s tied with No. 1 Kerr at 21-21-2 over the past two years. As for Nos. 2-5: 2. Suzann Pettersen leads 21-14-5; 3. Shin leads 23-16-4; 4. Song-Hee Kim leads 22-21-3; and 5. Na Yeon Choi leads 24-23.
Overall, Kerr has shown more consistency than Tseng, but less explosiveness. In the past year, Kerr lost to an average of 9.1 players per start, while Tseng lost to 15.3 players per start.