CANBERRA, Australia — Yani Tseng felt the pressure of being the No. 1 player last season, plus trying to defend 11 tournament titles around the world.
After a six-week break and a weekend off at home to celebrate the Chinese New Year with her family, Tseng is starting at the Women’s Australian Open, the first event on the LPGA Tour schedule.
“I was in Taiwan for Chinese New Year last week for a couple of days and I got some red envelopes for my family,” she said of the tradition at Chinese New Year. “My Mom told me last year was a bad year for Dragon, and I was Dragon. So my Mom say, ‘It’s OK, your bad year is over. Your good year is coming this year, the Snake.’
“I go, ‘OK that’s good.’ So I’m very excited for this year.”
In her first competitive round of the year today, she’ll be grouped with Lydia Ko, the 15-year-old amateur who won the New Zealand Open last week to become the youngest winner on the Ladies European Tour.
Also in the group will be American Michelle Wie, who is making her Australian debut and looks to make a strong start after missing the cut in 10 of the 23 LPGA tournaments last year.
Tseng has held the No. 1 ranking for two years, so she knows she’ll have to get down to business quickly. In the other high-profile first-round group at the par-73 Royal Canberra Golf Club, four-time Women’s Australian Open champion Karrie Webb will be playing alongside LPGA Player of the Year Stacy Lewis of the United States and defending champion Jessica Korda.
Korda won a six-way playoff at Royal Melbourne last year with a 25-foot birdie putt at the second extra hole to capture her first LPGA Tour title. She warmed up for her title defense with a fifth-place finish this month at the Australian Women’s Masters, which Webb won for the eighth time.
Tseng finished in a share of eighth at the Australian Open last year, after winning the title in the two previous seasons.
Tseng then won in Thailand on a run that contained three titles and eight top-10 finishes until things started going wrong in May. She didn’t win another title and had only three more top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour — all on the Asian swing late in the season.
The struggles were a shock for her and her fans, particularly after a stellar 2011 when she won seven LPGA Tour titles and four others worldwide.
“I know it’s been a tough year for me but when I look back, I have three wins, I have 12 top 10s, so that’s still pretty good,” she said Wednesday. “Because all the people are putting high expectations on me, even myself. I’ve been putting so much pressure on myself.”
Australian veteran Webb has experienced the highs and the lows in her long career and thinks Tseng’s year needs to be put in perspective.
“Yeah, that was a terrible year she had last year, three wins, $1.5 million. I would have hated to have a year like that,” Webb said, joking at the pre-tournament news conference.
“She missed a couple of cuts, yes. She didn’t have a great year, but she had a good year. I just hope that she doesn’t put that pressure on herself to have one of those 11-win years. Those come along not very often.
Lewis had her best year on record, winning four titles, including the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway Township, N.J., in June and notching 16 top-10 finishes to win the Player of the Year Award. Attaining the No. 1 ranking is a career goal.
“It’s kind of the goal that is in the back of your mind,” the American said. “You’re not thinking about it walking down the first hole — it’s one that you’re thinking about at the end of the week.
“It’s a big goal and so for me I have to put little goals before the big one. I’d like to get there. I think it’s pretty cool to be able to say that you’re No. 1 in the world.”
Tseng says she’s learning to ignore her critics after a rough year.
“Last year, I look at lots of press, I look at lots of news — it drives me crazy,” she said. “It was like if I finish out of top 10 and people are like: ‘What’s wrong with Yani?’ But I was finishing 12 or 13, but people were just starting asking me, What’s wrong with you?’
“It hurts a lot when I see those things on the news and see what those fans are talking about me, saying ‘Yani is struggling. Yani couldn’t play golf anymore.’ But now I kind of think through already ... and that way I can keep growing up.”
Tseng said she listened to advice from her coach about focusing on the positives and not to let minor setbacks on the course lead to bigger stumbles.
“I was thinking about my score, I was thinking about world No. 1 and I was afraid,” of losing the top ranking, she said.
“I was over-thinking a lot.”