COMMENTARY | It's hard to grasp the idea of being No. 1 in the world and being overshadowed, but Yani Tseng is sharing the spotlight as she prepares for the Honda LPGA Thailand, which gets under way Thursday, Feb. 21 at Siam Country Club's Pattaya Old Course in Chonburi.
Tseng sits atop the Rolex World Rankings and is the two-time defending champion in this event. If she wins this week she will become just the 10th player in LPGA Tour history to win the same event in three consecutive seasons.
As of this writing, however, Lydia Ko is getting more attention.
The 15-year-old Ko, who is playing in this tournament via a sponsor's exemption, arrives in Thailand off a third-place finish at the LPGA's season opener in Australia last week after winning in her adopted homeland of New Zealand the week before. If she wins this week, she will become the first amateur in history to win two LPGA events; she won her first in Canada last August to become the youngest player ever to win an LPGA event at the age of 15 years, 4 months, and 2 days.
It's tempting to think of this tournament as "The Saga of Lydia Ko Versus the Field" but that really isn't accurate, or fair to Ko for that matter. The field consists of just 70 players, less than half the size it would be if this were a full-field event, but there's plenty of talent on hand.
In addition to Tseng the list of entrants includes Jiyai Shin, who won last week's event, along with reigning LPGA Player of the Year Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park, Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Shanshan Feng, Suzann Pettersen, and So Yeon Ryu, In fact, 13 of the top 15 players in the world are in Thailand.
Tseng hasn't won a tournament since she claimed back-to-back wins in the RR Donnelley Founders Cup and the Kia Classic last March. But she closed with a rush in Australia; her closing 66 put her alone in second place behind Shin, which may be a sign that's she's on the way back.
Not that she was ever really gone. But there have been signs that the scrutiny that goes with being the top player in the sport has been weighing heavily upon her.
If Tseng is back to something approaching top form, however, that's good news for the LPGA Tour as a whole but very bad news for the players trying to beat her. While she may not be at the level she reached in 2011 when she won 11 times around the world, she remains the best player in the sport when she's playing well. And remember, she just turned 24 in January. Her best years are theoretically still in front of her.
But increasingly, as she remains atop the world rankings, Tseng must deal with the burden of other people's expectations, as unrealistic as those expectations may be. In 2012, for example, she won three official LPGA events after winning seven the year before. Critics contended she was in a slump. If so, it was one of the greatest "slumps" in the history of women's golf.
Ko may soon find herself dealing with the same sort of unrealistic expectations, which is unfortunate, for at 15 (she turns 16 in April) what she has accomplished already is truly remarkable. Hopefully, she will not be worn down by unnecessary burdens before her career truly begins to blossom.
Rick Woelfel has covered the LPGA Tour for more than 25 years. He is the editor and of Women's Golf Report and writes regularly for several other golf outlets. Rick resides near Philadelphia where he is hoping to fix his slice once and for all in 2013.