Yani Tseng is just what LPGA needed
How swiftly women's golf has changed. From a cloud of uncertainty and threat of blandness after the successive retirements of headliners Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa to something special and historic in one smile flat.
When Yani Tseng, 22 years, 6 months and 8 days of age, won the Women's British Open on Sunday at Carnoustie, Scotland, and raised the trophy while lighting up the room with a girlish grin, she was doing the exact same thing for women's golf's immediate future.
Never has a professional golfer -- man or woman -- made a greater and more sudden impact. Repeat: never.
By defending the Women's British title she won last year, Tseng collected her fifth career major championship overall and her fourth in two seasons. No one in professional golf had won so big so quickly.
Still almost six months short of her 23rd birthday, the native of Taiwan, in her fourth season on tour, is a third of the way to equaling the LPGA record of 15 Grand Slam titles held by the great Patty Berg.
Behind Berg are Mickey Wright (13), Louise Suggs (11), and Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Sorenstam (10) -- the biggest names in the sport's history. Betsy Rawls has eight, and Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb own seven apiece.
Sorenstam was 32 when she won her fifth major title, at the 2003 LPGA Championship. Tiger Woods was 24 when he won his fifth, at the 2000 PGA.
"I wish to win more, but I am really happy," Tseng said in her post-tournament news conference at Carnoustie. "I think in my mind I say, 'Wow, five times major.' I never think about that.
"It just feels really very special, and I'm very happy and very appreciative that I worked hard and finally all the hard work has paid off."
There is nothing to suggest Tseng's investment is not for the long haul. Just like Woods in the peak of his PGA Tour reign, Tseng has the power to pitch camp in her rivals' heads.
There is no ignoring her presence. No downplaying her threat. If she plays, she is favored to win. If she's on the leaderboard, she is a challenge to dread.
Just what women's golf was needing.
"Unbelievable," runner-up Brittany Lang said in the news conference after Tseng's win. "I couldn't even imagine 22 years old, fifth major, and how many events has she won other than majors? She's so mentally strong, and she's so aggressive and confident. She's just got it all. It's pretty cool, cool to watch."
For the record, Tseng has 17 professional wins, including nine LPGA titles. After winning three times last year, she won her first four starts worldwide in 2011.
She won the LPGA Championship in May by 10 shots. She came from 2 back after 54 holes to win the British by 4. The year could have been even bigger: She finished second to Stacy Lewis at the Kraft Nabisco, the season's first major.
"I think when you get to this level, maintaining is important because, at the end of the day, the question is: How many girls play at this level?" Tseng's swing coach, Gary Gilchrist, said during last month's U.S. Women's Open. "If she plays at Yani's level, she only has to beat three girls -- two who believe they can win and one who is going to play out of her mind and maybe win. Tiger Woods always looked at it that way."
Twenty years separated Berg's first major title and her last. At Tseng's current pace, she would match Berg's mark by the time she's 30 -- basically the prime of a golfer's career.
Does that suggest that her best play could still be ahead?
Gilchrist, the South African teaching pro who has been working with her the past 18 months, has little doubt.
"I think this is what separates her: A lot of times, you teach golfers and they don't ask any questions," Gilchrist said. "But she is always wanting to know: 'How I can improve? What did you see today? Is there anything I could have done better?'"
Beyond giving the LPGA fresh life?