Number Crunching 2013: Yani Tseng

Yani Tseng lost her No. 1 ranking last month to American Stacy Lewis.

Yani Tseng lost her No. 1 ranking last month to American Stacy Lewis.

Over the final two weeks of 2013, we will be breaking down players that rose and fell over the past 12 months. Check out the entire series here.

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In a way, Yani Tseng didn’t really mind that hernia operation. Because for the first time in a long time, she was able to rest.

“First time I feel my mind is totally relaxed,” said Tseng from her second home in San Diego. She felt “useless,” and it was great.

Tseng, 24, had experienced pain while hitting driver for the past couple of years, but it wasn’t until September that she showed her manager the increasingly large protrusion. Tseng immediately saw a doctor, who said surgery could be scheduled the next day. She protested, not wanting to miss part of the Asian swing, particularly the LPGA event in Taiwan. The doc told her to swing easy and pack light for the next month, and she had surgery Oct. 30, putting an early end to a somewhat shocking 2013.

For 109 weeks Tseng had been at the top of women’s golf. Stacy Lewis overtook her last March in Phoenix, and Tseng expressed relief. No one, however, could have predicted the ensuing tumble. She ended the year No. 29 in the Rolex Rankings, and, for the first time in her career, failed to earn $1 million in a season, making $405,068. It also marked the first time in six years on tour that she didn’t win a title.

“You have to want to be there,” said Hall of Famer Beth Daniel, of being at the top. “In Yani’s case, Yani didn’t want to be there. She wasn’t comfortable. So what happened? You let off the gas pedal a little bit and you start losing it all.”

For six months Tseng didn’t want to be seen in public back home in Taiwan. Everywhere she went, people asked why she wasn’t playing well.

“I didn’t go back to Taiwan much,” Tseng said. “I was kind of hiding in the U.S. I was very afraid.”

Then there was all the advice. Everywhere she turned, someone had an opinion. Tseng began to second-guess herself. Confusion set in.

On the golf course, a tree she wouldn’t even see as World No. 1 suddenly became a focal point. She grew frustrated. Her scoring average in 2011 (71.07) won the Vare Trophy. This year, she ranked 35th in scoring, up 2.047 strokes.

“I knew how tough my mental (game) can be. But I still couldn’t control myself,” said Tseng, who dropped from No. 15 to No. 76 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.

She switched coaches, leaving Gary Gilchrist over the summer to begin working with Kevin Smeltz, who recently became the face of the International Junior Golf Academy on Hilton Head Island, S.C. She wanted to hear “a different way to explain the same thing.”

Close friends encouraged her to approach the game like an artist. Passion is everything, they said. She returned to Taiwan this fall more confident, walking the streets with her head held high. Now when people ask questions, she responds by saying, “I’m doing well, but thanks for asking.”

“When I look back I know it was not a good year,” said Tseng, “but I feel I improved everything else except the score. I improved my life, my personality, the way I’m thinking.”

In looking at what happened to Tseng this year, Daniel said, credit those who have been on top for a long period of time for having the desire and heart to get up every morning and do what it takes to be there.

Tseng wants to get back there.

“These couple years, I learned a lot,” Tseng said. “My goal is to still try to get on top and to play the golf I love.”

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