Her first missed cut in more than a year was certainly not the warm-up for the only major championship not on her impressive resume that Yani Tseng wanted.
The world No. 1 shot a 3-over 74 on Saturday at the NW Arkansas Championship to finish at 5-over and well out of the weekend mix for the first time since the 2011 Avnet LPGA Classic. It was the two-time defending champ’s first cut in 26 tournaments going back to April of last year, and had to have Tseng, who has struggled with her self-assuredness of late, wondering about her chances at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open.
Tseng, who began the year as she finished her 2011 World Domination Tour -- with three quick wins in five events -- has battled a balky elbow and internal pressures all season. Recently, her nerve seems to have taken a huge hit, after the MC and the preceding tie for 59th in the Wegmans LPGA Championship in June. She has even had to refute reports that she planned to retire because of her recent slump.
“It’s hard to get your confidence back when you lose it,” Tseng told GolfChannel.com’s Randall Mell after the second major of the season. “My confidence is at zero right now.”
Tseng joked with Mell that she would follow Grace Park, who played her last tour event in the final round of the LPGA Championship, to the sidelines.
“I’m going to retire, too,” Tseng said. “This game is too hard.”
With the story making the media rounds, Tseng took to her Facebook page to deny that she was serious about walking away from the game in which she has 15 tour wins and is halfway to Annika Sorenstam’s mark of 10 major victories.
“As much as possible try to make myself more enjoyable to play, and not care about the results!” Tseng said, according to a June 12 translation of a message that she posted in her native Taiwanese. “I know I am to hard on my self, but sometimes it is really difficult, but I will try to do my best ! Learning from the mistake ! To find ways to solve! I believe I will be stronger and better! Thank you for your support !
“Also, I did not say i am going to retire yo!” the translation added. “Do not misunderstand! Competition just began !!!”
This year appears to be the season of Tseng’s discontent, as she has complained of stress almost from the start. Anxiety about whether she could match her sizzling play going forward appeared to take its toll from the outset of the 2012 campaign, as Tseng remained holed up in her hotel room during the season-opening Women’s Australian Open, rather than enjoying her usual road-trip diversions.
"Everything I'm thinking, what time to go work out, what time I should go to the golf course, or what can I improve today. Everything's about golf," Tseng said. "Before, I always keep having fun, go out, go sightseeing, and see how beautiful the city [is], but not the week in Melbourne. So that's kind of not normal for me."
She also talked about how she “got very crazy” with her entourage during their stay in Melbourne and that just about anything a member of her “team” did irked her.
“‘You look like you’re really mad,’” Tseng said her advisors told her.
That’s a long way from the smiling 22-year-old who took the golf world by storm when she became the youngest golfer ever to win five majors.
"I kind of...just look at the sky and look at the view around, the people around," Tseng told reporters after Saturday’s third round of the 2011 Women’s British Open in which she fired a second consecutive 6-under 66. "So it's kind of enjoy and keep my chest out and chin up, be a good professional, good body language and smart, look at the gallery, and that's the things I do for this year to keep me relaxed and thinking positive."
Indeed, Tseng has hummed her way around the golf course, per the instructions of her Vision54 coaches, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott. But such carefree days seem to be in her rear-view. Perhaps it’s the post-major win syndrome that seems to strike everyone but Tiger Woods (see: Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, and Bubba Watson, all of whom have talked about how to cope with the additional pressures that come with winning majors).
Whatever is going on with Tseng, she will limp into the Open seeking the one prestigious title that has eluded her in her certain Hall of Fame career. For sure, chasing her life-long dream will not help with the jitters that just playing in an Open brings on the 23-year-old superstar.
“When I’m at U.S. Open I feel pressure,’” Tseng told lpga.com recently. “Exciting too but I’m just...very nervous. I mean even last year when I was on the tee my hand was shaking....Every year it’s getting better but it’s still lots of nerve when I play that tournament, it’s just much more than other tournaments. Even I win so many majors and tournaments I still have those nerves.”
Conceding that the drive to keep up her record-shattering pace was a burden, Tseng noted that the weight seemed heavier this year.
“Before it was OK, but now I feel lots of pressure,” Tseng said. “Last year, I didn’t really think about it much. I just focus on every tournament, every shot and be happy with where I was and just enjoy golfing, enjoy the game.”
Things are different now, Tseng admitted.
“It seems I have so much pressure on myself and try to do perfect every time, try to win a tournament, try to play well,” she said. “But like the harder you try the worse you get.”
As if trying to cadge the one major that means so much to her weren’t enough, there’s the additional albatross of knowing that a win would top Tiger Woods’ record of becoming the youngest player to achieve a career grand slam. Maybe in an attempt to mitigate the onus should she come up short this week, Tseng said she could use a loss as an incentive.
“I want it of course, so, if I can win I’ll be very happy, if not I still have many years I can achieve,” Tseng said. “It’s OK if I don’t break Tiger’s record or something but the grand slam will always be there for me as a goal to improve on my game.”
Whatever happens this week at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisc., Tseng said her stumbles this season would serve as guideposts for the future.
“When you put pressure on yourself you like question yourself, too, like ‘what’s wrong with me?’ But last two weeks, I had to wake up and think a lot because I never had that happen. But now I’m kind of learning from mistakes and learning as you go,” said Tseng. “I think my game is getting better and it will be back soon.”
Tseng’s marquee threesome, which includes Na Yeon Choi and Suzann Pettersen, ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, will start on the first tee at 1:58 p.m. local time on Thursday. ESPN has the action on Thursday and Friday (4 p.m.-8 p.m. ET), with NBC broadcasting over the weekend (3 p.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday).