Yani Tseng: Exclusive mastery interview

In the time period from 2010 through 2012, Yani Tseng was the finest woman golfer in the world…by a long shot. Over those three years, she won 13 times, 7 of them coming in 2011. And then the music stopped and she hasn’t won since. She dropped from 4th on the money list in 2012 to 38th in 2013. Given her invincibility during that period, it was one of golf’s greatest mysteries.

She had as her mantra that she was just going to have fun, similar to Lydia Ko’s current formula for success. My sense of the difference between the two is that Lydia truly is having fun and that’s why she plays the game, while Yani buys into the grueling pressure meme of golf and is trying to paper over that with smiles to staunch the nervousness and fear that pressure creates.

These last two years have been heartbreaking, not only for Yani, but for everyone who knows her. She is a sweet young woman with a big heart and big smile and truly liked, even loved, by most everyone. She thinks of the LPGA and all of the friends she has met there as her family. I recall her saying in one of those great years that she couldn’t wait to get back each year to be with her family.

No one who cared about her was indifferent to her fall and subsequent struggle, but what do you do? 

So when I saw this morning that Karrie Webb, Stacy Lewis and Yani were paired together in the sweet spot of my mid-morning, I couldn’t wait to watch that show. I hadn’t seen Yani play in person since her slump, she was enjoying a resurgence and I hoped to get an interview with her after her round to explore what had happened to her and how she had turned it around.

The highlight of her round was that first tee shot which she pulverized, outdriving Karrie and Stacy by 30 to 40 yards because she was able to carry it to the downslope in the left fairway.

From there she drove into bunkers and the desert, missing both ways and taking four unplayable lies. She said later that she just wasn’t seeing the putts go in and it was sapping her confidence. I counted at least four good putts in all respects save for the fact that they all lipped out. It was a nightmare that ended in a 5-over 77. How she limited it to that is beyond me because it looked much worse than that.

I had some trepidation about asking for an interview with someone who had been gutted by a round like that, but Tour media staff assured me that it would be okay. I waited for her to come out of the scoring tent and she was subdued but as gracious as she had ever been in agreeing to speak with me.

So we’ve talked before..

Yeah.

Three years in a row when you were at the top of your game. You were doing great and everybody wondered how it could ever end. Do you know yet?

At this point, Yani misunderstood that I was talking about a couple of years ago, not today’s round. She may have just been shell shocked and assumed that I would be talking to her about today’s round. So I just let her go in order to get the conversation going.

I thought it was going to end better. I feel good. I didn’t finish the way I wanted, but I know that I’m hitting good. I just need to just keep believe in myself and trust myself. It was just one of those weeks and I know my game’s there and I can wait to play well. I hit some good shots; it’s more about mental. I think my skill is back, there’s nothing wrong with my skill. There’s nothing wrong with my swing.

Today was just a series of really bad breaks.

Yeah, I know. My putting…

Yeah, your putting was off, but they were lipping out. It wasn’t like you were missing them by eight feet. Your speed looked good.

Yeah, I got some tough breaks these three weeks. My putting it’s — so many times the ball, like, I don’t know. If I can make a couple of them, you know, it’s easier to get the momentum going. But when you keep missing it’s hard to get that momentum going. I just need something, a turning point, but there’s nothing there.

Well, I think the turning point is there. You changed coaches, right?

Yeah, yeah, for sure. New coach, new trainer. So I’m very happy. I’m trusting my swing and just need a — it takes time, you know? I keep believing in myself. My game can win a tournament

Yup, always could.

Yeah, I just — I think my tempo is something — I just need to be patient, you know? I’m a little — try to prove to myself that I can do it and it’s going the other way.

Well, for those of us who are watching you, there’s no doubt you can do it.

Yeah.

You hit some really great drives today.

Thank you.

A couple of loose ones, but some really great ones…

Yeah.

Going back to when you were No. 1. Do you remember what happened to that caused you to slowly go downhill like that?

Well, I think I just put too much pressure on myself…

Yeah, you said mental…

Yeah, it’s all about mental. So it’s — I’m doubting myself if I can play well and I don’t know, all of a sudden I make a mistake and it just — it’s just been crazy.

How do you go from trusting yourself so much to doubting yourself. Was there anything that you can think of back in there?

Yeah, I was just putting too much pressure on myself. Like, if I don’t finish top-10, people would ask, “What’s wrong with Yani? What happened?” There’s nothing. Nothing happened, you know?

It’s just, “That’s golf.” Right?

Yeah, right.

So now, lately you’ve been having a really nice upswing here…

Uh, yeah. I’m just coming back tomorrow to practice for next week.

Atta, girl.

Can I just ask, what about the mental side of the game for you? Is it…

Like I said, I just need to get some birdies out there to get my momentum going…

Just to see the ball go in the hole?

Yeah, I think that will give me lots of confidence, for sure. But, I keep seeing the lip-outs. I just…

Yeah, it was heartbreaking [laughs]. I wanted to go up there and give you a hug! [laughs]

[Laughing] I know, I try my best out there…

Yeah, I know. It’s clear that you do. But when did you start do doubt yourself? Because of all of the pressure?

Yeah, I think so.

And then what did you do to turn that around, because now it’s swinging back the right way?

Yeah, I mean, it’s been a long time. It’s been a couple of years, I’ve learned so much. And I’m just getting mature. And I don’t know, things are going really well. You know people always say if you give your 80% effort and people give up after they give 80% effort. But I think now, I almost give 100% effort and I just need to wait to see the results. And I don’t give up, just keep fighting.

Atta girl. Thank you very much for taking time, Yani. I appreciate it.

Thank you.

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