Yani's Greatest Hits

June 16, 2008
June 16, 2008

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June 16, 2008

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Yani's Greatest Hits

When talented 19-year-old rookie Yani Tseng finally relaxed and got into the flow, she shot past the biggest names in women's golf and pulled off a major upset at the LPGA Championship

EVEN AS theshadows lengthened toward dusk on Sunday at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre deGrace, Md., one question hovered over the McDonald's LPGA Championship aspersistently as the broiling sun had all day: Doesn't anybody want to win thisthing? ¬∂ Six players had been in the lead or within a shot of it during thefinal round, but no one had shown a killer instinct or, for that matter, theability to make a putt. The two people who had been expected to battle mostfiercely over this title, Lorena Ochoa and the woman she replaced at the top ofthe world ranking last year, Annika Sorenstam, had finished the day knotted at11-under 277, but that was a stroke back of the two players who were headed tothe tee of the par-4 18th for the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff. ¬∂Walking up the hill from the 17th green after trading pars for three holes weretwo unlikely survivors of a wild, sweltering day—Maria Hjorth, an 11-year LPGAveteran from Sweden who was looking for her first major victory, and YaniTseng, a 19-year-old rookie from Taiwan who had yet to win on tour. On a daywhen birdies were in short supply, it was Tseng who finally made the one thatmattered.

This is an article from the June 16, 2008 issue

Tseng hit her teeshot into the first cut to the right of the fairway but lasered a six-ironapproach to within six feet of the hole. After Hjorth missed a 15-footer forbirdie, Tseng stood over her ball and told herself, as she would comicallyrecount, Just make this putt and win a major championship!

When she did, shebecame the first player from Taiwan to win an LPGA major and the first rookieto win one since Se Ri Pak took the LPGA Championship in 1998. "I can'tbelieve I just won a major, and I'm a rookie!" she said later."Everything came so fast."

One group of fanswas especially elated to see Tseng carry off the championship trophy and acheck for $300,000. Four women who called themselves the Yani Club and worestickers that read, YANI, A CROWN JEWEL had driven down from Newark to followthe friendly Tseng during the weekend, chanting, "Yan-i! Yan-i!" whenshe made a putt or unleashed a long drive. Two of the women had met Tseng whenthey played with her in the pro-am at last month's Sybase Classic in Clifton,N.J. "She is the nicest kid," said one of the ams, Madonna Hickey."She gave us pointers on everything, from swinging the club to putting. Sheworried far more about teaching us something than playing her owngame."

Tseng appreciatedthe support. "Before I just heard, 'Lorena! Lorena!' Today it was 'Yani!Yani!'?" she said.

Among the othersrooting for Tseng were her playing partner, Ochoa, and Ochoa's caddie, DavidBrooker, both of whom had gently encouraged the rookie all day, even as Ochoawatched her own chances to become only the fourth player in LPGA history to winthree straight majors melt away. On Friday the championship had seemed to beOchoa's to lose. That day the Guadalajara, Mexico, native, who already has sixwins this season, including the Kraft Nabisco Championship, had toppedThursday's solid three-under 69 with what she called a "very easy" 65to take the lead by two strokes. She missed only one fairway and had 17 birdiechances, a number Brooker conceded was "a little scary" given that shenormally gives herself 13 or 14 birdie chances. "People say, 'Oh, she holesout everything,' but she doesn't," said Brooker. "She has a lot left inthe tank."

On Saturday,Ochoa struggled on greens that had been soaked by rain earlier in the week andwere steaming as the heat index rose to 107°. "I couldn't get thespeed," she said. "They were really heavy." Fighting a cold as wellas the humidity, Ochoa missed four greens and took 32 putts while shooting adesultory 72.

Meanwhile,Sorenstam—who is retiring at the end of the season but before doing so hoped tojoin Mickey Wright as the only player to win the LPGA Championship fourtimes—shot her second straight 68. That put her in a tie with Ochoa at 10under, two strokes behind leader Jee Young Lee. Hopes for a head-to-head Sundayshowdown between the top two players in the world were spoiled, though, whenthe LPGA sent out threesomes instead of twosomes for the final round because ofthe threat of morning fog that had delayed Saturday's start by three hours.

Though they werein different groups, their battle appeared to be on when both birdied the 1sthole to pull even with leaders Hjorth and Lee. But with Ochoa and Sorenstammustering only three more birdies between them for the rest of the day, thefight fizzled.

The normallyeven-keeled Ochoa betrayed her frustration on the 330-yard, par-4 16th. She hither tee shot just 10 feet short of the green, and her pitch for eagle looked asif it were in the cup. But when it lipped out, she did half a cartwheel, rolledonto her back and covered her eyes with her hands. "I couldn't believe Ididn't make it," she said. "I never lose hope. I thought, Somethingwill happen, I will finish with three birdies on the last three holes. Itdidn't happen." (Before signing her card, Ochoa's brother Javier told herthat their grandfather had died in Mexico during the night after a shortillness. Less than two weeks earlier one of Ochoa's uncles had died, and shehad withdrawn from the Ginn Tribute.)

Sorenstam had herown trouble converting birdie chances. Her best opportunity came on the415-yard, par-4 13th, after Lee and Hjorth sent spectators ducking for coverwith tee shots that flew far left of the fairway. Hjorth's ball caromed off aSkyCaddie technician and a spectator before landing in waist-high fescue. Whena search party of a dozen people failed to find the ball, Hjorth had to playher provisional and wound up making a double bogey. Lee had to take two whacksto get out of the hay and also made a double, so Sorenstam—who had earned anappreciative round of applause for simply putting her tee shot in thefairway—only needed to make par to join Tseng atop the leader board. InsteadSorenstam's birdie chip bounced off the hole, and she missed a four-footer forpar. Asked if there were any shots she'd like back, she said, "I don't knowwhere to begin. A dozen or two would do it."

Hjorth made uplost ground with birdies on 15 and 16, but she blew her chance to beat Tseng inregulation with a bogey at 17. Hjorth admitted that she didn't know much aboutthe teenager who beat her. "I only know she's been playing really well thisyear."

Tseng, who grewup outside Taipei and started playing golf as a five-year-old, has been playingwell for years. Among her 19 international amateur victories was a win overMichelle Wie in the 2004 U.S. Women's Public Links and a victory over MorganPressel a year later in the North and South Amateur. Tseng spent 2007, herfirst year as a pro, on the Asian and Canadian tours before sailing throughLPGA Q school on her first attempt last fall. (Tseng's caddie last week, SherryLin, a 26-year-old friend from Taiwan, is also an LPGA rookie.) In 10 startsbefore the LPGA Championship, Tseng had a pair of seconds and never finishedworse than 28th. Given her high standards, she was understandably disappointedwith the 73 she shot in the opening round. "I tried to play everythingperfect," she said.

Her coaches,two-time PGA Championship winner Dave Stockton and his son Ron, encouragedTseng to relax, and Friday's 70 led to Saturday's nearly flawless 65, which puther only four shots off the lead going into the final round. Four birdies onthe first eight holes brought Tseng to the top of the leader board, which is asight LPGA fans might get used to seeing, just as Yan-i! Yan-i! is a soundthey'll no doubt get used to hearing.

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Head Games

Talent has never been an issue for 22-year-oldBrittany Lang. Meeting expectations has been simply a matter of attitude

IF BRITTANY LANG were looking for a test of thepositive-thinking techniques she recently learned, she found it on thesweltering back nine at Bulle Rock last Saturday. After starting the thirdround three strokes back of leader Lorena Ochoa, Lang made three birdies on thefront nine to take the lead. Then, after the turn, she bogeyed the 10th anddoubled the 13th. Betraying no despair, Lang parred the next four holes andmade a birdie at 18 to finish with a one-under 71, which put her four shotsbehind the leader, Jee Young Lee. "Last year if I made a bogey and a doublebogey to get back to even, I would have sulked," says Lang. "But todayI was positive. I let it go, and I didn't, for once, think about what I didwrong."

Lang's coach, Bryce Waller, an assistant on theTennessee men's team, thinks Lang's blossoming emotional maturity is "thefinal piece of the puzzle" for a player whose considerable physical talentshave yet to be validated with an LPGA tour win. "She has power [her259-yard driving average is 19th on the LPGA], she can play a variety of shots,and her putting and wedge game have come a long way," says Waller."Given her talent and the way she has been playing, any goal isattainable."

Great things have been expected of Lang since shecapped two All-America seasons at Duke by tying Morgan Pressel for second atthe 2005 U.S. Open while both were still amateurs. As an LPGA rookie in 2006Lang had seven top 10 finishes, including two thirds. But in 2007, the year shestarted working with Waller, she missed the cut in 12 of her 27 starts. "Itwas a transition year, working with some new things," she says. "I'msuch a better golfer because of it. I learned my game. I know what I'm doingout there."

Her goal for this year: a better on-course attitude.Waller suggested she visit Vision54 sports psychologists Pia Nelson and LynnMarriott, who have helped a number of players, including '07 LPGA Championshipwinner Suzann Pettersen. Since her consultation with the two women in March,Lang has had three top 10s, including a tie for second at the Sybase Classiclast month, and she came in 18th at the LPGA Championship. Lang is 18th on thetour money list. "I have felt fantastic on the golf course," she says."I feel in control."

Lang also has no doubt that the wins will come. "Iwork very hard and have a ton of talent, so I know it's simply a matter oftime."

PHOTOPhotograph by Mike EhrmannON FIRE Tseng birdied four of the first eight holes on Sunday and left a frustrated Ochoa (inset) in her wake.PHOTOPhotograph by Mike Ehrmann[See caption above]PHOTOPhotograph by Mike EhrmannCOMING ON Pegged as a sure thing out of college, Lang, 18th at Bulle Rock, has three top 10s this season.PHOTOPhotograph by Mike EhrmannMISSED CHANCE Asked if there were any shots she'd like back, Sorenstam said, "A dozen or two would do it."PHOTOPhotograph by Mike EhrmannCLOSE CALL Hjorth, an 11-year veteran trying to win her first major, bogeyed the penultimate hole to fall into the playoff.