Yani Tseng was awarded the LPGA Rolex Player of the Year after a race that wasn’t decided until the finish of the season-ending Tour Championship on Sunday. She entered the week with the lead on the points standings, but it was still possible for Cristie Kerr or Na Yeon Choi to overtake her The 21-year-old from Taiwan won three events in 2010, including two of the LPGA’s four majors — the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the British Women’s Open.
At the awards ceremony at Grand Cypress, Yani gave a moving speech (even GC’s Jerry Foltz, who was emceeing, teared up!), expressing how much the honor meant to her and thanking her parents for their support. “It’s my honor to be the Player of the Year and when at the announcement, “Yani Tseng is Player of the Year,” the emotion just — it’s kind of (overwhelming) because I never thought I would be holding the trophy, winning Player of the Year,” she said.
Earlier in the week, I caught up with Yani to get to know her a little better. It only takes a minute to realize that she’s a cool and funny girl with tons of personality. (And yes, she speaks English quite well! — much better than my rusty Mandarin at the moment.)
Check it out… This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
WUP: You’ve had an amazing year with wins at two majors. What’s been the greatest highlight?
Yani Tseng: I think the British Open. That’s the first time I had a three-day lead going into Sunday. Finally, I took the trophy down. Before when I was leading on Sunday, it was always terrible. I was nervous. I was always trying too hard to win the tournament. But after that day, I felt like I got to the next level — when I’m the leader, I can still win a tournament. It was very special for me [to win the British Open], to give me that confidence.
Now I know what I can do to win. I can only think of the things I can control, instead of trying too hard to win, which I had done in the past. When you’re behind, you don’t care — you just go for it. If you lose, you lose, but if you win, there’s not much pressure. When you’re the leader, you think, “Oh, I should win,” or something like that. There were so many things on my mind, but now, I feel like my mental game is better and everything is positive.
WUP: Is there something specific you’ve done to improve your mental game?
Yani: I’ll write down the things that I do when I play my best and when I play my worse. I ask myself, “What did I do?” So I just compare that and I’ll say, this is my goal for this week — relax! At every tournament, I pick a few goals and just focus on those things now instead of my score.
WUP: What are your plans for the off-season?
Yani: I’m going to study English at the Language Company in Orlando. I feel like I still have a lot to learn. Actually, school starts on Monday. [Ed. note: two days ago.] It’s every day Monday through Friday and 9am to 3:30pm. I think I’m going go full-time for a few weeks and then half-day after that because I have to practice…at some point.
WUP: You speak English well already. Why are you taking classes? To perfect it?
Yani: Yeah, I just want to be better because then I can share more of my story with the media and fans, so they can get closer to me. I don’t know if they know if I can speak English or what. But it’s only one month, so I don’t know what things I can improve! (Laughing)
WUP: You said Player of the Year is the award you’d like to win the most. [Ed. note: This interview was conducted before she won it.] You won Rookie of the Year in 2008, so you’ve had quite a bit of success. Talk about that.
Yani: When I was a rookie, I didn’t even think I was going to win a tournament. I didn’t know what it was like on the LPGA because I hadn’t played. I know that I played well as an amateur, but pro is different, especially on the LPGA — you play with the best golfers in the world and you don’t expect them to miss a shot. You have to play solid to win a tournament.
WUP: You like to dance, right?
Yani: Nooooo! /shaking head, waving arms and laughing
WUP: Oh, don’t be shy. I’ve heard you’re really good at breakdancing!
Yani: Breakdancing is my one skill. That’s all. I just saw it done on TV and mimicked it. I like dance (in general). I’ve thought about going to dance class to learn rhythm and tempo. But I’m really bad with those things. [Ed. note: I doubt it! If you haven’t noticed, Yani is very humble.]
WUP: I’ve heard you talk about the influence Annika Sorenstam has had on you. You bought her house last year and she’s become a mentor to you. How did that happen?
Yani: I moved into her house last April after the Kraft Nabisco. The first time I saw her house was in January (2009) and I think I knew that I was going to buy it then. Probably because I wanted to be closer to Annika — she is my idol. I want to be like her and not just inside the ropes, but outside, too. She does a lot for juniors and charity. She’s such a nice person and classic player. I want to be like that.
She’s always nice and says, “You know where I live, just knock on my door.” That’s very sweet of her. She’s very easy to get close to. I’ve learned some things from her that have helped with the mental game.
When I was young, I watched her play golf and I said, “One day, I want to play with her.” That was my goal — I kept working hard to get on the tour to achieve that.
Well, Yani has achieved that dream! I wish I would have filmed the interview because her personality doesn’t come out enough through just her words. She’ll throw in funny asides and crack jokes. Next time I’ll bring the flip camera!
Yani doesn’t have much of an off-season. She starts back up the second week of January with a tournament in Taiwan. Then she’ll play in some tournaments in Australia in February.
Congrats on an impressive year, Yani. And thanks again for your time.