Golf: Ironing out her problems

Despite being one of the longest hitters on the LPGA Tour, Tseng Ya-ni is also among the more wayward. She has broken par only twice at the Serapong Course and her best result at Sentosa was last year, when she tied for 21st. The world No. 39 will be
Despite being one of the longest hitters on the LPGA Tour, Tseng Ya-ni is also among the more wayward. She has broken par only twice at the Serapong Course and her best result at Sentosa was last year, when she tied for 21st.BH FILE PHOTO

A new swing coach and a sequence of top-five finishes could buoy former world No. 1 Tseng

After spending more than two years staring into the golfing abyss, former world No. 1 Tseng Ya-ni has finally begun to see the first hints of sunshine.

A string of top-five finishes, including two seconds, in the second half of last year have given the Taiwanese five-time Major winner the belief that the form which saw her top the rankings for 109 consecutive weeks between 2011 and 2013 is again within her grasp.

And there would be no better place to end her four-year title drought than in Singapore, where she won multiple junior tournaments as a teenager.

She told The Straits Times yesterday: "I put myself in contention a couple of times last year and even though I didn't win, that has definitely helped my confidence."

Her work with new swing coach Claude Harmon III - son of Tiger Woods' former coach Butch - since early last year has improved her swing mechanics.

Tseng, 27, hit 66.73 per cent of greens in regulation last term, her best score since 2012.

  • HSBC Women's Champions

  • When 

    Thursday to Sunday 

    Where 

    Sentosa Golf Club, Serapong Course

    Prize money 

    US$1.5 million (S$2.11 million)

    Who 

    An elite 63-woman field with 18 of the world's top 20 golfers, including Lydia Ko, Park In Bee, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson.

    Tickets 

    Daily from $20, season pass is $60. On sale through Sistic. Price does not include entry to the island or booking fees. Free entry for those aged 16 and below.

She is also mentally stronger now and added that exchanging notes with Japan's Ai Miyazato, another former world No. 1 whose form has also gone pear-shaped and who is now ranked 159th, had also helped.

In the 96 LPGA Tour events Tseng has played since winning the last of her 15 titles in March 2012, she has recorded more missed cuts (25) than top-10 finishes (16).

Said the world No. 39, who is competing in this week's HSBC Women's Champions at the Sentosa Golf Club (SGC): "It can be hard to believe in yourself when you don't have good rounds. The most frustrating thing is that I know my game is at that level to compete.

"Winning a tournament is not easy but I feel I'm on the right track. The target for this year is simple: To get that win out of the way as quickly as possible."

Her record in the Republic's marquee women's golf tournament is mixed. She finished in the top three in 2010 and 2011 when it was held at the Tanah Merah Country Club's Garden Course but has struggled in her last three visits to the SGC, the home of the US$1.5 million (S$2.11 million) event since 2013.

A joint-21st finish last year represents her best result on Sentosa. In 12 rounds on the narrow Serapong Course, she has broken par twice.

"I do struggle a bit with the set-up there, especially with my tee shots," admitted Tseng, who is one of the longest hitters on the Tour (fifth last season averaging 267.15m) but also one of the most wayward (147th with an accuracy of 55.53 per cent). "Some holes are tight and keeping the ball in play helps a lot on this course."

Having sunk to depths - she was ranked 90th a year ago - that had led her to question her commitment and motivation, she was able to brush aside a poor beginning to this campaign.

Three tournaments into the season, she has failed to break par and failed to make the weekend at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic in January.

"My irons were terrible last week (at the Honda LPGA Thailand where she finished 64th). It's been a rough start so far but I just have to keep believing in myself," she said.

It is a mantra for any athlete to live by and words on Feb 29 that are particularly timely for Tseng.

In many ways, she is still searching for that leap of faith.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'IRONING OUT HER PROBLEMS'. Print Edition | Subscribe