Baldry: Yani Tseng’s game translates

Yani Tseng

Yani Tseng

Yani Tseng just wants to talk. The LPGA’s No. 1 player wants “all the people” to know her story. She wants, in essence, to be embraced by the world.

From a distance, that might sound arrogant. But put in the context of the LPGA, where international players – particularly Asians – grow stronger each year, and the message becomes more about language and cultural understanding than self-promotion.

“I want them to know I can speak English, so they can talk to me,” Tseng said at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix, the tour’s first domestic stop in 2011. “Don’t be afraid to talk to me, because I’m very easy to get close to.”

Indeed, Tseng’s hearty laugh and genuine personality makes those around her relax. She’s 22, wide-eyed and impressionable. And, after starting 2011 with four consecutive victories, she’s riding high with confidence.

“She’s loving life,” said Tseng’s swing coach, Gary Gilchrist.

Immediately after wrapping up LPGA Player of the Year honors at the Tour Championship last December, Tseng got up early Monday morning and went to an English class. The Taiwan native spent three weeks working on vocabulary and grammar, trying to speak more smoothly to the millions who will watch her around the globe.

In fact, Tseng spends so much time answering questions in English that she now gets confused by Mandarin translations.

“Sometimes I want to say ‘patient’ or ‘I hung in there,’ and I don’t know how to say it in Chinese,” she said. “I feel like my Chinese grammar is terrible.”

Tseng bought Annika Sorenstam’s old home two years ago and now lives down the street from her childhood idol in Orlando’s Lake Nona community. Simply looking at Sorenstam’s expansive trophy case, still mostly empty, is literally built-in motivation for Tseng. She has yet to call on Sorenstam for a cup of flour or sugar, but she has gone over looking for advice.

Paralyzed by what type of pressure 2011 might hold, Tseng took a wine glass to her neighbor’s house and sat down for a lesson on managing expectations. Few know what it’s like to face the pressure of the career Grand Slam, World No. 1 and Player of the Year. Tseng left the conversation a changed player.

“All the media is going to talk about it,” Tseng said of the expectant accolades. “Well, I won. They talk about the truth. I was kind of afraid to face it.

“She just told me to face it.”

Tseng needs only the U.S. Women’s Open to become the youngest player to complete the career grand slam. Back in 2003, Tseng wrote a thank you note to Ernie Huang, a Taiwanese transplant who introduced her to U.S. Golf Association events. She had lost to Paula Creamer on the 18th hole in the second round of the U.S. Women’s Amateur and left Philadelphia in tears. Before heading back to Taiwan, Tseng drew the U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Women’s Amateur trophies on the card and wrote her name on each. Beside that, she wrote “I am world champion.”

Tseng never did win the U.S. Women’s Amateur, but she took down a 14-year-old phenom named Michelle Wie at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. From then on, she became a staple at USGA events. Now she’s a three-time major winner.

“I see a different Yani out on the golf course than when we were growing up,” Creamer said. “She’s very deliberate. You can just see her thinking so much out there.”

Tseng’s ability to overpower a golf course hasn’t changed much over the years, though she does go about it in a smarter way. The first time Tseng threw a medicine ball to Andrea Doddato, the Orlando fitness trainer was stunned. She immediately asked Tseng if the person who taught her the game simply told her to swing as hard as she could.

“How did you know?” Tseng asked.

Because, Doddato replied, most Asian players concentrate so hard on the mechanics at a young age that though their swings are pretty, they lack explosiveness. Tseng learned to swing with abandon as a 6-year-old under the watchful eye of her father and instructor Tony Kao.

“She’s got the most amount of power I’ve ever seen out of a girl,” Doddato said.

Tseng noticed more fans were following, once her winning streak began. When she went back to Taiwan after becoming No. 1, more people recognized her on the street and offered encouragement. Tseng deeply appreciates the attention. She simply adores a crowd.

“I hope I don’t talk too much now,” she said.

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