Colorado Springs, Colo. – Everyone knows that Annika Sorenstam is a once-in-a-lifetime player, the winner of 72 LPGA tournaments, a name that connects with golf the way fish connects with chips. But did you also know she was psychic?
A little more than two years ago, Sorenstam sold her home in Lake Nona, Fla., to a talented young player from Chinese Taipei. As she signed over the deed, Sorenstam predicted the young girl would become the next dominant force in women's golf.
Like one of Sorenstam's tee balls, the foretelling has split the fairway. Yani Tseng is fulfilling the vision and threatening to follow the path of the sensational Swede to make history at The Broadmoor. While child star Rory McIlroy's victory at the recentU.S. Open at Congressional Country Club still resonates, Tseng – more than three months younger than McIlroy – has won three of the last six major championships in the women's game.
On a golf course where Sorenstam, at 24, won the first of her three Women's Open titles, the 22-year-old Tseng seeks to add a Women's Open to her portfolio and become the youngest player of any gender to complete a Grand Slam.
Everybody is talking about that and I feel the pressure, too, Tseng said. I want that. I want to win this tournament, too. But I started to prepare at the beginning of the year, working with my coach and everything.
If I didn't prepare there would be more pressure here. But now I feel really good. This is my goal. I'm going to play one shot at a time and do my best. If I don't win, I still have lots of years I can win.
As she said, Tseng has anticipated this arrival – not simply this week but this moment, this time in which she has climbed to the mountaintop of her game.
Chinese Taipei does not boast the kind of golf assembly line that has rolled out player after player from Japan and Korea, although Candie Kung won the 2001 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and was the runner-up at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open at Saucon Valley Country Club to Eun-Hee Ji. Tseng embraced the game at the age of 5 and came to the United States at the age of 12 as her country's best amateur. A year later, she was at the 2002 Women's Open at Prairie Dunes Country Club, chasing down autographs from the likes of eventual champion Juli Inkster and Sorenstam and experiencing an epiphany.
She craved this moment.
Two years later, in 2004, she beat golf's teen idol, Michelle Wie, to win the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links. The following summer, she won the North & South Women's Amateur. Pretty soon, she was signing autographs instead of collecting them.
I used to go online and search USGA and that's how I found out what tournaments I could play in, explained Tseng, who was the 2008 LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year. When I first turned pro, I would tell the players how I got their autographs when I was 13. And they would say, 'Now you beat me. You don't need my autograph.'
Now, Tseng is in the spotlight. People want to know more about her, what she's thinking, how she's feeling. Veteran stars such as Inkster recognize her karma.
You never think there's going to be another Mickey Wright, or Annika Sorenstam or Lorena (Ochoa), then all of a sudden Yani comes along, Inkster said. She has Lorena's power, she can bomb the ball, and she has a lot of passion for the game. She wants to be the best. She wants to get better.
She could be here for a while and if she stays healthy, she could break a lot of Annika's records.
Last year, Tseng won three times, with two of them coming at majors: the Women's British Open and the Kraft Nabisco. As 2011 approached, she realized reaching her goals meant more than winning tournaments.
Tseng enrolled in language classes to improve her halting English. She sought out conversations with her peers and welcomed interviews with the media. If she was going to be the No. 1 player in the world, she was going to embrace the environment that comes with it.
It has given me lots of confidence, said Tseng. Sitting here or on the course, I'm not afraid to talk to other players. Before, I tried to stay away from it... because I was so afraid to talk.
I felt like I needed to improve. It's not just good for me, but it's good for golf. Now I feel I can share my story with lots of people... Hopefully now I don't talk too much.
By Sunday, Tseng's story could speak for itself. She tackles the thin air of Colorado on a Rocky Mountain high of consecutive wins, having captured the State Farm Classic and the Wegman's LPGA Championship in her last two appearances. In 10 LPGA Tour starts this season, she has three wins and eight top-10s, along with three victories overseas.
In her last 10 rounds, Tseng has a scoring average of 66.9, and she ranks first in six of the 12 main scoring statistics on the LPGA Tour. A win at The Broadmoor would give Tseng five major championships two years before Sorenstam won her first. She would have 15 LPGA Hall of Fame points, more than halfway to the 27 required for Hall of Fame induction. She would have completed a career slam two years younger than Tiger Woods.
And with her new command of the language, she doesn't shy away from such talk. She is not jealous of the attention McIlroy has received since winning at Congressional. She is inspired.
You know, I feel less pressure this week than before, Tseng said on Tuesday. I always feel so much pressure on U.S. Open courses. It's so tough... But after seeing Rory McIlroy do it, I feel much (more) relaxed.
I mean... you still can beat a course. You just got to come out here and have fun, enjoy the pressure and enjoy the big crowds.
Tseng has spoken with Sorenstam over the past few days about how to play the slanted greens at The Broadmoor. She considers the former face of women’s golf to be her role model. She's done so many great things for golf, Tseng said, and it's not just for golf. Even outside that role, for charity and everything. She's very, very nice and a classic player.
One other thing about Sorenstam is apparent this week. She's pretty good at forecasting the future.
The first time when she said that … like I'm going to be the world No. 1... I was really shocked, Tseng said. I thought she was kidding. But this time, I feel it's different. This time I feel like, Yeah, she might be (right). So I really enjoy to hear her say that.
Tseng might do more than enjoy being No. 1 this week. She might endorse it by making golf history.