Leading Wegmans, Tseng strives for greatness

Yani Tseng at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.

Yani Tseng at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – The Tiger-Rory comparisons flowed heavily after the U.S. Open. Occasionally, someone would mention Yani Tseng, a 22-year-old who is one U.S. Women’s Open victory away from the career grand slam. She has won 10 times worldwide in the past two years, including two majors. Before the masses crown Rory McIlroy as the game’s most talented, most promising twentysomething (with his one major), take a closer look at Tseng.

Her electric game attracts fans with its extraordinary length and power. Tseng doesn’t have the toned frame of Suzann Pettersen, but she’s one of the best athletes on tour. She’s aggressive, personable and eager to open up. Most importantly, she knows how to win the big ones. (She’s taken three of the past 12.)

Tseng leads the second major of the year with a smooth 6-under 66 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, clipping America’s sweetheart, Paula Creamer, by one stroke.

Simple truth: The LPGA is desperate for buzz. If Tseng were to dominate the tree-lined Locust Hill and head to the Broadmoor in two weeks with her fourth LPGA major in tow, perhaps more of the golf world would pay more attention to the No. 1 player in the women’s game. The LPGA doesn’t need a steady rotation of players moving in and out of the top position. Fans crave something, someone spectacular.

Tseng’s swing coach, Gary Gilchrist, put it best when describing the uphill battle Tseng and the rest of the LPGA face: “Women have to do twice as much as the guys to get recognized, unfortunately.”

Tseng tries not to sweat the fact that her resume doesn’t attract the attention it deserves.

“I tell myself if I play better and play good, more people will put attention on me,” said Tseng, who has worked hard on her English in the past year, hoping to endear herself more to fans and media.

Great players are never short on advice. Opinions come from all directions, and it’s important for a player like Tseng to find someone who can help her tune out all the static.

Gilchrist, an inspiring South African who speaks plainly, is that man for Tseng. The pair began working together last year, and he’s been instrumental in helping Tseng build trust and confidence in what she’s doing. He’s not just a swing coach; Gilchrist also focuses on managing outside pressure, something that’s key to a player ranked No. 1.

Case in point: Tseng’s strong ballstriking in recent months has led to criticism of her putting. Gilchrist put a stop to that.

“The worst thing you can do is start thinking there’s an area in your game that could be weak,” he said. “You don’t win 10 times in two years and be a poor putter. Give me a break.”

Tseng’s aggressive personality sometimes leads to three-putts. But, as Gilchrist points out, it also leads to her pouring in pressure putts when needed.

“Anytime she starts doubting herself, I’m right there saying, ‘Yani, let’s look at this logically,’ ” he said. “Not allowing her mind to focus on things that aren’t there.”

Tseng won her second LPGA title of the season at the State Farm Classic and then had last week off. She and Gilchrist worked together four times at Lake Nona, going over all areas of her game and working out ways to smooth out any expectations she might feel over this six-week stretch, which includes three majors.

“The last few weeks just gave me lots of confidence for my putting and my driving, too,” Tseng said. “The major course is always very tough and (this) gives me a comfort zone.”

If Tseng wants to dominate like her idol, Annika Sorenstam, she’ll need to become mentally stronger. That comes with experience, and Tseng is beginning to understand that at 22, she’ll have many chances to win majors. But that didn’t stop her from thinking last night about this year’s Kraft Nabisco, where she lost a two-shot lead on Sunday to Stacy Lewis.

Before she began Round 1 in Pittsford, Tseng had a conversation on the range about the number of times Jack Nicklaus had a chance to win majors and didn’t get it done.

“It gives me more confidence and trying to not put the pressure on me,” Tseng said. “It’s not a big deal. I still have a long way to go … lots of majors to play.”

A good reminder that greatness does not equal perfection.

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