YANG MEI, Taiwan – Yani Tseng’s third shot into the par-5 18th bounced, danced with the cup and then came to rest a few feet from the flagstick. Fans poured into the fairway as the final group approached the green and dozens of Sunrise caddies – females dressed in bright yellow jumpsuits – held hands tightly and formed a chain in an effort to contain the crowd.
The country’s vice president looked down from the VIP tent and watched his pro-am partner from earlier in the week knock in one last birdie putt to win the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship by a staggering five shots.
Knowing the pressure Tseng felt coming into this week and the unprecedented attention, one can’t help but marvel at the accomplishment. Her physical power now matched by her mental strength.
“It’s incredible,” Tseng said. “I wish this year would never end.”
Tseng owns seven LPGA titles in 2011 and 10 worldwide. This marks her 12th career LPGA title, five of which are major championships.
Tseng’s bogey-free, 6-under 66 put her five shots clear of Amy Yang (67) and Azahara Munoz (68) on an unusually steamy fall day at Sunrise Golf and Country Club. The World No. 1 pulled away with three consecutive birdies, on Nos. 6-8.
Avid golfers and those who were simply curious about Tseng were treated to an electric atmosphere Sunday. Fans climbed a tree along the first fairway to get a view of Tseng’s tee shot and rushed under the ropes as she walked down the fairway. Marshals worked hard all day to keep a largely uneducated golf crowd in check. Everyone, it seemed, was a professional photographer.
Tseng can only hope her performance this week inspires many of her compatriots, particularly young ones, to take up the game. At the conclusion of the event she donated $100,000 to the Golf Association Republic of China to help promote junior golf. Officials can’t, however, put a price tag on what this week was worth to Taiwanese golf.
When Munoz spun her third shot back into the hole for eagle on the par-5 sixth, it took some time to quiet down the fans. That was probably the first time many had seen someone hole out a shot from the fairway, and they loved it.
“I’m just really surprised how many people are here just supporting this tournament, supporting the golf because like I say, at first golf is not as popular like baseball, basketball here,” Tseng said, “but now seems like we’re growing it a lot, and I’m really happy to see this. I wish in the future there will be more people and more people playing.”
Tseng was especially pleased to see one fan, in particular, on the 18th green: Her 93-year-old grandmother. Cheng-chu Yang watched Yani play in her first tournament at age 6, but hadn’t seen her play in person since then. She does, however, watch her granddaughter play on the other side of the world at 3 a.m. on TV in the house where Tseng grew up.
“I was very happy to see her because she never take airplane to go to the other country, never in her life,” Tseng said. “So I was really, really emotional and very happy.”
Several of Tseng’s family members and friends showered her with champagne and sparkling water on the 18th green. The president of Taiwan sent a message of congratulations that was read at the closing ceremony.
From here, Tseng goes to China to play in an LET event next week and will then attend a friend’s wedding back in Taiwan. Her next LPGA event will be in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“I’m really happy what I did this year,” Tseng said. “And so (I) keep learning and get some more experience and try to make more history.”
It sounds as easy as she makes it look.