NAPLES, FLA. (AP) - It sure doesn’t look like Yani Tseng had a bad year, even though it might feel that way.
She has won three times on the LPGA Tour, the most of any player except for Stacy Lewis. She is closing in on $1.5 million in prize money, putting her fourth on the money list. And she comes into the final tournament, the LPGA Titleholders, having finished no worse than fourth in her previous three events. Compared with almost anyone else, it’s been a great year.
Compared with what Tseng did a year ago, it qualifies as a slump.
“So maybe I can win this tournament, you never know,” Tseng said Wednesday at TwinEagles. “It doesn’t matter the results of this week. I feel I still have successful year. I’m still No. 1, so don’t forget about that. So I still can have a happy ending.”
Tseng is assured of remaining atop the women’s world ranking, mainly because she started the season with an enormous lead, and built upon that by winning three times in four events leading into the first major of the year.
And then, mysteriously, she didn’t win again.
She squandered a chance at contending in the Kraft Nabisco and didn’t come remotely close at the other three majors. Along the way, she fired her caddie and tried to hired him back, only to discover he had another job with Na Yeon Choi, the U.S. Women’s Open champion.
Tseng isn’t quite sure what happened, except that she was buried under expectations that followed someone who had won 12 times around the world in 2011.
“The last three or four months, I was really trying too hard and putting myself (under) too much pressure, and I second-guess myself if I can still win a tournament,” she said. “I was just struggling, but I wasn’t very happy. … People email me on the Facebook and say, `I don’t see your smile anymore.’ I feel bad about that. It doesn’t matter how I play just like before.”
That was what she learned. Have fun. Smile.
The results are starting to come around, and Tseng now looks forward to next year. And there’s still one tournament to go.
The 73-player field gets under way Thursday on the Eagle Course at TwinEagles, with most of the attention on two players, though the celebration is centered on one. Lewis already has wrapped up LPGA Tour player of the year, becoming the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to win the points-based award.
She clinched it last week when Inbee Park failed to win in Mexico.
Park, however, still has a healthy lead on the money list at just over $2.2 million, and Lewis is the only player who can catch her. Lewis has twice as many wins as Park, who made a late run during the recent Asian swing, and Park was helped by winning $300,000 in the Women’s Canadian Open, even though she didn’t win. Lydia Ko, the 15-year-old amateur who lives in New Zealand, won the tournament, but the earnings went to Park, the runner-up.
Park also has a slim lead over Lewis in the Vare Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average.
Lewis is more interested in the Vare Trophy because it speaks to consistency. The LPGA Tour still has a wide disparity of prize money depending on the tournaments, a point driven home to Lewis when she realized her runner-up finish at the Evian Masters was worth more than any of her four wins.
“I think the Vare trophy for me would be more of a guideline of how consistent you played all year,” Lewis said.
The 27-year-old Texan was the last to leave the putting green on Wednesday night, heading back to the hotel to work on her speech for the awards dinner on Friday night and pick out a suitable dress to wear. She knows there is one more tournament, four more rounds, but it’s hard to ignore the attention she is getting for player of the year.
Her story is amazing in many ways, starting with the fact she had scoliosis and wore a back brace from age 11 all the way through high school, and then had surgery that kept her future in doubt, even playing college golf at Arkansas.
It worked out fine. She became an NCAA champion and went undefeated at the Curtis Cup. In her pro debut, she had a one-shot lead going into the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen and tied for third.
And now this.
“I just think back to 10 years ago when I remember sitting in a doctor’s office and him telling me that I was going to have to have back surgery,” Lewis said. “That was the time that … I mean, I thought I would never play golf again. Now 10 years later I’m here winning player of the year. That’s crazy. That’s not normal, you know?”
Tseng wouldn’t mind a return to normalcy, at least by her standards.
Lewis is the player of the year. Tseng still looks at herself as the best in women’s golf, and she still has that No. 1 ranking.
“It’s good to see her win,” Tseng of Lewis. “Kind of disappointed, too, but it’s already the last tournament, I have no chance to get it back. But I was trying really hard, that’s why I was playing six in a row. But she was playing good, and it’s happy to see that. Hopefully, next year, I can get it back.”