Suzann Pettersen: The Ice Queen Has Melted a Little

One of the things I learned today in skimming the transcripts from the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship is that Suzann Pettersen and Yani Tseng are good friends and practice together a lot. They both live in Orlando with Pettersen playing out of Bay Hill and Tseng playing out of Lake Nona (she bought Annika Sorenstam’s old house).

Pettersen has always had a reputation as a stoic when she played, so focused and determined was she when she was playing competitively. Fun to be around off the golf course, not so much while playing. Well, maybe not so much anymore. 

Pettersen won the event on Sunday at 19-under, three ahead of Inbee Park and four ahead of Tseng. And Tseng thinks she knows at least one thing that helped:

And I think the important thing is she’s showing more smiles on the face.  So I think that’s how she can handle this pressure better.  So I’m happy for her.

Tseng has been working on smiling more in her own game no matter what. When I interviewed her early in the week at this year’s RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix, that was a big piece of her grand strategy. In fact, I featured a photo of her coming down the 10th hole with a big smile on her face. At the time, she was down by three. She went on to win.

But Pettersen acknowledges that there’s also a little baggage that comes with competing against a close friend, especially one with an ebullient personality like Tseng [my own experience with her is that she is extremely warm and effusive…as Pettersen found out]:

You know, Yani and I, we’re great friends.  I think a unique thing that we have, as much as we’re competitors, we’re good friends.  We practice together.  We kind of brain storm together.  We can walk through golf strategy together.  But at the same time, once we tee it up, we’re fiery competitors.

And it was almost hard for me because Yani as we were walking off the 18th tee, Yani is like, great job this week.  I wish I could have given you more of a battle.  I’m like, I’m not done yet.  I mean I got two shots and one is over water.  I can hit it in the water.  I’m like, Yani, I can’t listen to you.  And she’s like, great job.  I just wish I could have given you more of a fight.

And we’re walking up 17 we talked about a few different changes that I’ve done, and it’s nice to hear that she’s happy for me.  She can see the changes.  I can feel the changes.  I have a new caddie that I feel is working really well.  He is very laid back.  He — I trust him.  And the chemistry is right there.  So with that I can allow myself to play to my gut feel and to my instinct, and I guess that is the big difference for me.

On the other hand, she was able to shed some light on the incredible, shrinking Yani Tseng. This was a woman with 12 worldwide wins in 2011. She was indomitable. And in 2012 she looked like she was off to the races again; she won three tournaments in the beginning of the year. And then in the middle of the year her game turned stone cold to distant finishes and missed cuts. Pettersen knows her well:

You know, golf is a sport.  We’re all human.  I mean what Yani has done over the last couple of years is hard to ever repeat.  And it’s easy for Yani to get hard on herself.  I mean I don’t know if it’s normal or not normal to win 12 events a year.  I don’t think it’s — it’s going to be hard for anyone to do that after her.

And she came off to a great start, and I think in golf you go up and you go down.  And I don’t think she’s played that bad, to be honest.  But we put a lot of pressure on ourselves.  There’s a lot of expectations from the media, from the fans.  And I mean they’re used to seeing her win and when they don’t see her win, you’re going to hear about it.  So it’s just nice to see Yani back playing with more confidence, I guess.  She trusts her game.

But like I said, we’re all human, and in this game you win and you lose, and you go up and you go down.  It’s just important that you learn from the downs and you come back up.

As for her part, Pettersen had some key factors in her win, one being not being bothered by the gusting, 25 mph winds. Good players are good ball strikers, the key factor in playing in windy conditions:

Well, yeah, I was hoping for tough conditions because it eliminates half the field.  For sure I was happy when I woke up and I looked out the window and I could see the bushes were going sideways.  I just smiled and said, great.  Bring it on.

You know what, I feel like I have every shot that’s needed.  So for me it was, like I said earlier, it kind of was easy for me to stay and stick to my own game plan, not really worry about anyone.  I knew no one was going to go real low today.  And it’s always nice to be in the last group, so you kind of have some kind of control factor of having to do stuff if you have to coming down the stretch.  But like I said, I really didn’t pay too much attention to the others’ games, and I felt a lot more comfortable this Sunday than I felt last Sunday [in Korea].  So it’s always a different feel to different wins.  Last week I felt like I scrambled it.  This week I felt like I earned it.

It was tough enough to where I managed to keep my focus on my game trying to execute every shot, and it kind of took the pressure off me.  So I guess the conditions kind of helped me today, and it was obviously great playing with Yani and Inbee in the last group.  It was a good battle out there.

Earlier in her interview she did speak pretty extensively about her game plan. It’s a strategy that works at any level of the game; it’s all relative and scalable:

I really paid no attention to either Yani or Inbee’s game today.  I really tried to stick to my own game plan, sticking to my own bubble.  I played my own game, tried not to kind of do stupid mistakes, errors that would cost me too much.  Really tried to play within my margins, be aggressive when I could, play the percentage that was kind of needed.

I felt when I made the putt on 15, I felt pretty comfortable.  That was the first time I kind of let my head go a fraction ahead.  And knowing that 16 was a tough par‑3, I couldn’t really think about it too much longer.

Well, teeing off on 18 with a two‑shot lead, hitting the fairway I felt pretty good.  My wedge game has been great all week, and knowing I would have some kind of wedge or 9‑iron in my hand on my third shot.

So it was tough, but like I said, I didn’t really pay much attention to their game.  Felt pretty good straight off the bat.

And finally, she talked about the week’s external elements that contributed to her inner peace and, proof that she may no longer be an ice queen, playing from her heart:

You know what, I tee it up every week to try and win.  Obviously winning last week gave me perhaps a bit more confidence believing that what I do is the right thing, and I’ve had some great friends around me last week, this week, being able to put my head in the right spot and just really enjoy myself.  I don’t think I’ve enjoyed myself so much on the golf course like I have the last three or four weeks as I have the last ten years.  So I think that might be a huge part of it.  Really playing with my heart, playing with my instinct, even on the last shot.  Just being aggressive.

And one more stoic, steely-eyed Tour pro bites the dust.

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