After struggling for nearly a year to rediscover her dominant form, South Korea’s Inbee Park finally ended her – and Asian golfers’ – major drought by winning last week’s Wegmans LPGA Championship in a playoff.
After Park won last year’s LPGA Championship, the four subsequent majors were won by Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and three Americans – Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie and Mo Martin. The four-major stretch without a win was the longest drought for Asian golfers since they began dominating women’s golf in 2008.
For the former World No. 1, the victory in Pittsford, N.Y., ended a long stretch of near misses. After winning last year’s U.S. Women’s Open in June, Park went almost a year without a victory until winning the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic this June. Her performance in the majors also took a dive, as she finished outside of the top 35 in three consecutive tournaments.
Park was able to prevail last week thanks in part to the late collapse by Brittany Lincicome, who only needed a par on the final hole to claim her second major victory. But she botched an easy two-putt and then fell in the first playoff hole when she was unable to get up-and-down to save par.
By repeating as the LPGA champion, the 26-year-old Park now has five major victories, tying her for 13th on the all-time list. She won’t have to wait long to attempt to increase that total as the fifth LGPA major of the year, The Evian Championship, will be held September 11-14.
While Park has regained her championship form, another former World No. 1 is still trying to rediscover hers.
Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, who became the youngest golfer (male or female) to claim five major titles when she collected her fifth at the age of 22, finished tied for 30th at the LPGA. While that hardly measured up to her previous lofty standards, at least she’s making some progress.
After winning the Women’s British Open in 2011 to cement her status as the top player in the world, Tseng finished third in her next major at the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship, and then began a long descent into golf purgatory. She failed to finish in the top 25 in 11 of her next 12 majors, with five missed cuts and a T-19 at last year’s LPGA her best finish.
An attempt at a swing change worked to her detriment and as a result, a complete loss of confidence in her game plagued Tseng. Once one of the longest and most accurate drivers of the ball, Tseng contracted the same disease that befell another famous former world No. 1, Tiger Woods.
But Tseng’s sudden fall from golf superstardom was more stunning than Tiger’s in that she was not beset by injuries or personal issues. And despite a six-year drought in the majors, Woods did manage to lead the PGA Tour with five victories as recently as last year. Tseng last won an LPGA event in March 2012.
Tseng’s struggles are thus more reminiscent of yet another former world No. 1, David Duval. After winning his lone major championship at the 2001 British Open and finishing a stretch of top 16 or better in eight straight majors, his game completely fell apart. He’s never won another PGA Tour event and, save for a surprise T-2 at the 2009 U.S. Open, never had another top 10 in the majors.
During this year’s Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale, Tseng was seen walking down the fairway with tears streaming down both of her cheeks during a ghastly round of 82 on Friday as she missed the cut. She now speaks wistfully about her better days as if it’s an out-of-body experience.
“Yani is still in there somewhere,” she said last Wednesday before the LPGA Championship. “My skill is still inside me. I just have to trust myself and let it out.”
She said she’s been getting advice from all sorts of people, “thousands,” ranging from LPGA hall of famers to random fans everywhere. And it’s not necessarily helping.
“That’s why I’m so confused,” Tseng said. “My left brain is fighting my right brain. Juli Inkster used to tell me that when you start to doubt yourself, that’s when you have a problem.
“When I started to doubt myself, I started to wonder if all those people were right. And then I’d start second-guessing myself all over again. … I have to stick to what I believe and trust it. But it’s so hard. It’s so much easier to say.”
It’s uncertain whether Tseng will ever regain her form that kept her on top of the world for 109 consecutive weeks. At this point, it’s probably a longshot that she’ll ever be a factor again in LPGA majors, even though at 25 she’s only entering the prime for most golfers.
Tseng is already eligible for induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame after the criteria was changed in March. She’s done enough by the age of 22 to warrant enshrinement, but that can’t happen until she either turns 40 or been retired for five years.
Golf can be such a cruel and fickle game.