YANG MEI, Taiwan – Fans streamed into Yani Tseng’s booth for the chance to shake hands with the pride of Taiwan. Yani mania continued long after the sun went down on Saturday at Sunrise Golf and Country Club. Tseng tamed the windswept, mountainous track with a smooth 5-under 67, met with the media and then went straight to her personal booth in the tent village. Craziness ensued.
Tseng’s support team put the booth together and sold items throughout the week that bear her new logo and catch phrase: “How cho!” (good shot). All proceeds go to children who suffer from a cleft lip and palate. Any fan who purchased something from Tseng’s booth got the chance to put their name in a drawing to meet Tseng and have a photo taken. Twenty lucky fans came back to Tseng’s booth after the third round to meet the World No. 1. Many more lined up for the opportunity to shake her hand.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone acting more humble after such a display of complete adoration. Tseng’s security on Saturday was doubled from two men in black polo shirts to four, and after she left the booth madness she headed back into the clubhouse to meet friends and share in a quick bite to eat. Security then escorted her back to the VIP suite with flashlights showing the way.
Tseng often says “It’s my honor” when she talks about the opportunity to perform for thousands. This week the phrase means even more since she’s competing on home soil. It’s impossible to overstate how much joy she’s bringing fans this week. They cling to her every move and show great emotion over every shot. Their reactions require no translation.
“Last week before I came to this tournament I was feeling a lot of pressure because all the fans, everybody was talking about, ‘Oh, you’re playing in Taiwan, you have to win in Taiwan,’ ” said Tseng, who happens to lead Anna Nordqvist by two strokes.
“But after the first day I saw that many people on the golf course supporting this tournament, supporting us, my pressure just got so much lower because I feel really appreciative them coming to support me.”
Ai Miyazato, a sports hero in her native Japan, said it’s crazier in Taiwan than back home. The atmosphere around Tseng’s group is downright electric.
Rules official Doug Brecht has driven the cart paths of LPGA tournaments for more than 18 years. He said he’s never seen anything like this. One official had to run to a ruling because the cart paths were so congested. Fans have asked Brecht for his autograph because they recognize him from TV.
Sophie Gustafson climbed to the top of the clubhouse roof this afternoon to take photos of the massive crowds on the ninth as Tseng approached. Karin Sjodin also came back out with her camera after the round to take pictures of all the fans taking pictures. She said players have even been asked to sign iPads this week, which fans are using to take photos on the course.
Tournament organizers have added more ropes and barriers each day to try and prevent mob scenes. Tseng’s journey back to the clubhouse after her round was much less dramatic this afternoon. She also felt like fans showed better etiquette with their cameras and phones in the third round.
Tseng was the only player who broke 70 on Saturday, and posted three consecutive birdies on Nos. 13-15 to break away from the pack. Scores soared as the wind gusted up to 25 mph. Tseng told her caddie before the round that even par would be a good score. She shot 5 under on a day when only 10 players broke par.
“It would be very, very special to win in this tournament tomorrow,” Tseng said, “because this is … the first time so many people are coming to watch us.
“I think it’s just – you know, it is my honor.”