Kohler, Wis. — Yani Tseng is young, and time has a way of befriending youth. So if the 23-year-old does not win this week’s U.S. Women’s Open to complete a career grand slam, there is always next year.
Or the next year. Or, most assuredly, the next, right?
Babe Zaharias was 43 years old when she became this championship’s oldest winner, which means Tseng likely has 20 more viable chances on her timeline.
“To win this tournament would be huge, it would mean a lot,” said Tseng, of Chinese Taipei, after her practice round at Blackwolf Run on Tuesday afternoon. “This is a tournament I very much want to win, but it’s not going to change me if I do or do not win.”
The career slam sorority currently features Pat Bradley, Juli Inkster, Annika Sorenstam, Louise Suggs, Karrie Webb and Mickey Wright. On the men’s side, only five golfers own that distinction: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
Just as notable are some of the players not on the list. Kathy Whitworth, the LPGA Tour’s all-time winningest player with 88 wins, and Patty Berg, who won 15 majors, both won just three legs of the slam.
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So whether Tseng wins or not, she will be in elite company.
Tseng has won five of the past 17 majors, including two in each of the past two seasons. This championship, though, has been the most beguiling. Since winning her first major (2008 LPGA Championship), Tseng has finished tied for 42nd, missed the cut, tied for 10th and tied for 15th.
The winners of those four U.S. Women’s Opens – Inbee Park, Eun-Hee Ji, Paula Creamer and So Yeon Ryu – have totaled 13 careers wins, including just one other major.
While not completing the slam may not change Tseng, that void may grow over time.
Just ask Se Ri Pak, who defeated amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn in the famed U.S. Women’s Open playoff here in 1998.
Eleven years ago, Pak, then 23, won the Women’s British Open, the third leg in her pursuit of a career grand slam. The following spring she began what has become a futile and frustrating affair to complete the slam.
“After I won the first major, then the dream was to win two and then the grand slam. Then the biggest dream was to make the Hall of Fame,” said Pak, of Korea, whose five major wins helped secure her place in the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame in 2007.
Now 34, Pak has not won on the LPGA Tour since May 2010 or won a major since the 2006 LPGA Championship. In her 0-for-10 stretch at the Kraft Nabisco Championship since 2003, Pak’s best finish was this year’s tie for eighth.
“I’ve been lucky to have done so much, I’ve accomplished most of my dreams,” Pak said. “Maybe one day I can win that last one.”
In fairness, this is only Tseng’s second U.S. Women’s Open in which she has been saddled with slam expectations. But until she wins, the talk and the questions will continue to be crammed into an already pressure-packed week.
Tseng has learned from six previous appearances, which include missed cuts in 2005 and 2006, to try to treat this like a typical week.
“I've been learning a lot,” she said. “I think the more U.S. Opens I play, it gives me lots more experience. Every year I've been calmer and there had been less pressure, less nerves. So this year I feel great.”
That sense of history still lingers.
In 2003, Sorenstam, of Sweden, who won 10 majors including three U.S. Women’s Opens, finished off her slam with the Women’s British Open. As much as she attempted to block out the significance, she was keenly aware of her place among the greats.
“I'm aware of certain things, but I try not to focus on that,” Sorenstam said at the time. “I try to just play my game. I knew what was at stake, not just the championship, but the grand slam and so forth. But there's enough pressure just to play this golf course. There's enough emotion just to be out here that I try not to think about the history and what it would mean.”
There has been no blueprint for winning the slam.
After Webb, of Australia, won her first major, the du Maurier Classic in 1998, she polished off her feat in 692 more days. Inkster won her first two majors in 1984, and then needed 15 years to win the second half of her career slam – winning the U.S. Women’s Open and the LPGA Championship in a span of 14 days.
Tseng could be the first to ever make the Women’s Open the final leg.
The women’s grand slam has taken several iterations. Originally, the slam was recognized as the U.S. Women’s Open, Women’s Western Open, LPGA Championship and Titleholders Championship.
The Women’s Western Open ran from 1930 to 1967, and the Titleholders was created in 1937 and held through 1966 and again in 1972, meaning that in some years, there were fewer than four majors contested. The Kraft Nabisco was founded in 1972 and has been considered a major since 1983. The du Maurier Classic, established in 1973, was considered a major from 1979 to 2000 before being replaced in the slam quartet by the Women’s British Open.
Only Webb has won five of the designated majors, which some consider the Super Grand Slam. Next year, the Evian Masters will become the LPGA’s fifth major championship, an event that has already been won twice by Sorenstam and once each by Webb and Inkster.
If Tseng is seeking advice, then she may want to look to Inkster, 52, who is making her 33rd U.S. Women’s Open appearance, for guidance.
“I'm really bad at knowing how many tournaments I've won or majors or where I won it or how much,” Inkster said. “I just play and they add up at the end. That's all I do.”
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA championship websites.