This time Yani Tseng didn’t go near the trophy before the final round of the LPGA Championship. She learned her lesson after possibly jinxing herself at the Kraft Nabisco where she held a two-shot lead going into Sunday and grabbed the hardware jokingly as she walked onto the first tee. This Sunday she waited until scorecards were signed to hoist the trophy at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y.
Yani captured her fourth major, making her the youngest player at 22 years, 5 months, 3 days in history to achieve that feat. With her convincing 10-stroke win, along with her five other victories worldwide this season, it’s no question that she’s the most dominating golfer in the world at the moment. I’m talking Tiger-like dominant during his peak (so weird that we’re speaking about that in past tense now). When it became clear Yani would cruise to the winner’s circle, she set another goal for herself on the course — to finish at 20-under.
“I look after nine holes, and I saw I was 8, 9 shot lead,” she said during her post-round presser. “I was like, what’s a new goal for me? That’s why I tell myself, setting a record to make 20-under, so that’s a new goal for me on the back 9. Otherwise I just don’t know what can I do for the back 9.
“Because I just want to play one shot at a time. But I don’t think I’m fighting hard. But after I tell myself, let’s bring it 20-under, and I am fighting back again to try to make birdie again.”
In other words, she didn’t want to become complacent and give back a few shots. She missed her goal by a stroke, finishing at 19-under. Yani matched the LPGA record low at a major, most recently set by Cristie Kerr a year ago when she shot the same score and won the tournament by 12 strokes.
Though it would have been hard to glean, Yani admitted to feeling nervous at the start. (I guess that’s only human nature when you’re about to set all sorts of records and make history.)
“I ask my coach this morning, ‘what can I do today?'” she said. “I have a five-shot lead. You never know on this golf course. He told me just go out and have fun. You always show your big smile this week and just do the same thing as yesterday. And I was really, really nervous on the first hole. I pulled my drive and made bogey. I made like 3-foot putt for bogey. My hand was shaking. I just tried to save par from the first hole.
“The second hole I feel better. I had three birdies in a row and after that I calmed down and everything. I realize today, let’s break a record. It was a totally different mind for the first hole. I am having so much fun out there. I smile all the way and see all of the fans and media was following. It was just really big crowd there and give me lots of support.”
Yani will be aiming for the career Grand Slam next month at the US Women’s Open — the only major she’s yet to capture.
In PGA Tour Confidential on Sunday evening, we actually spent a fair amount of time on Yani and led the discussion with the LPGA. Shocking, I know! The first question posed was how many majors we think Yani will win.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I love that she hits it a mile, smiles on every tee box and lives in Annika Sorenstam’s old digs. That trophy room is filling up quick. Four majors by age 22? I’ll say she gets to 15.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: She’s only 22 and has four under her belt, so who knows — 20-25 majors? The power she generates through her swing is amazing. She’s got a great personality, too. If only more people knew that she does speak English, and quite well.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I like everything about Yani’s game. As good as her ballstriking and putting are, what is most impressive is her ability to raise her game for the most important tournaments. That’s a gift few have. Her idol, Annika, won 10 majors. Tseng, if she stays healthy and motivated, might double that.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Yani wins 10 more majors by the time she turns 30. The LPGA isn’t that deep, and it’s not going to get any deeper with so few tournaments.
And can anyone contend with Yani right now? I don’t think so. She’s in a league of her own. Congrats, Yani!