In this era of style over substance, there is something heroic about an athlete who chases greatness without all the attendant fuss.
Yani Tseng doesn't tweet. She does not have a reality show or her own line of clothing or perfume. She doesn't threaten bodily harm on tournament officials or show up in the police blotter.
All she does is win with grace and dignity. With 11 victories this year, including two major championships, Tseng has become not only golf's most unstoppable force but also the world's most dominant female athlete. Along the way this 22-year old from Taiwan has grown into an ambassador of all that is right with sports, and an easy choice for Sportswoman of the Year.
It barely registered with American fans, but in October Tseng starred at one of the most riveting golf tournaments of the year, when she returned to her homeland for the inaugural LPGA Taiwan Championship. To promote the event she spent the week back-slapping dignitaries, giving clinics to schoolchildren and offering endless sound bytes to a ravenous media. The result was that some of the biggest crowds in the history of women's golf packed the course for a peek at their national heroine. Rarely has a golfer been under such pressure to perform, yet Tseng, as always, summoned her best, blowing away the field in what she called the greatest victory of her already gilded career. But no shot was as memorable as the teary hug she shared behind the 18th green with her grandma, who was seeing Tseng play in person for the first time since she turned pro. Tseng made the day even more memorable by donating $100,000 of her $300,000 winner's check to further junior golf in her homeland.
Even as Tseng has dusted the competition in unprecedented fashion -- no other player, male or female, has ever won five major championships by the age of 22 -- she remains wildly popular with her colleagues, who enjoy her easy smile and humility and a work hard/play hard ethos that has put Tseng at the center of much late-night merriment. She spent last offseason taking English classes, so as to be able to better interact with fans,reporters and sponsors, who have mistakenly taken her for the shy, retiring type.
Tseng doesn't look like Natalie Gulbis or any of the other female athletes we elevate to stardom for reasons that have little or nothing to do with their performance. But her body of work is so impressive it demands to be recognized. The scary thing is that Tseng is only getting greedier. Even after her closing 66 in Taiwan she was not entirely satisfied.
"You can always get better and always improve," she said. "If you shoot 6-under you can always shoot 7-under. Or 8-under."
Expect Tseng to keep going lower.