The good news for Yani Tseng is: She's awesome. She hits her golf ball long and true; she hits her irons crisply and with authority; she putts well and plays the game with the demeanor and attitude of a winner. She's a record-setter, a barrier-smasher and a major champion four times over after a McIlroy-ian 10-stroke romp over the field at the LPGA Championship in Rochester. She smiles and waves, does interviews gracefully and has the golf world at her feet.
The bad news for Yani Tseng is: Nobody knows who she is.
I find this disconcerting.
Granted, my survey-taking skills are unscientific, not to mention that the LPGA Tour falls just short of the NFL in TV ratings, so that may affect the results. But I asked four sports-fan friends of mine – some of whom work in the media industry professionally – what they thought of Yani Tseng's historic win. After all, Tseng just became the youngest ever to win four majors, man or woman, and each one responded:
There were the obligatory "Isn't that the shaggy-haired New Age musician?" jokes, but it is indeed sad when a sports fan knows Greek keyboardist Yanni better than Taiwanese golfer Yani.
There was a time when women's golf did not hurt for a superstar. Most recently, Annika Sorenstam's dominance – 72 wins, 10 majors, shooting 59, playing the PGA Tour – made her a one-name star. Even before Annika, Nancy Lopez graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, and Jan Stephenson made waves by meshing boudoir photography with bunker play.
Lorena Ochoa's star shone brightly, but too briefly. And now, in the post-Annika, post-Lorena world, we've all turned our American eyes to Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie and to a lesser extent, Morgan Pressel and Cristie Kerr.
When all along, it was Yani who should be on the radar.
What will it take for Yani Tseng to break through into the mainstream consciousness?
Undoubtedly, the fact that she's not American plays a role in the American sports fan's eye. But Tseng has taken great strides to ingratiate herself into American culture. She takes pride in trying to learn English, and has done so to such a level that she even gives nuanced, interesting interviews. Her chat with The Golf Channel's Rich Lerner after her Rochester Romp showed an enthusiastic young woman with a sense of humor and history.
She even bought Annika's house in Florida and calls Orlando home, and admits she wants to win majors at an Annika-like pace. She even came to Annika's home one night with a bottle of wine and a list of questions about how to win. That may seem a little "Single White Female"-ish, but hey, if you're going to stalk somebody, it might as well be the best, right?
Yani Tseng is deserving of our attention not just because she plays the game with such power and precision, but also because we in the media were barking up the wrong tree for years. I was part of a media brigade that fell in love with Michelle Wie's golf swing and charisma, and prematurely anointed Hawaii's darling as the future of golf. Meanwhile, Tseng was the player who knocked Wie off her perch at the 2004 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links, when they were both 14 years old, and hasn't stopped knocking competitors down since.
If we were looking for the next great star who hit the ball so far it drew comparisons with the men, it was Yani, not Michelle. If we were looking for the next great star who would attack majors with a fire and hunger, it was Yani, not Michelle. If we were looking for the next great star unafraid to make history, it was Yani, not Michelle.
While Wie's chosen path of a balanced life being a student at Stanford has brought her great personal happiness and deserves plaudits of a different kind, it's time we all turned our golf attention to the real supernova.
It's Yani Tseng, and it's well past time for sports fans to stop saying: "Who's she?"
Scorecard of the week
• 68-70-68-65 – 7-under 271, Erik Compton, winner, Nationwide Tour Mexico Open, El Bosque GC, Guanajuato, Mexico
It's hard to tell the Erik Compton story, hard to explain to people why you're rooting for Erik Compton without delving into the maudlin. But facts are facts: The 31-year-old golfer is the recipient of two heart transplants and has now just scored his greatest professional achievement – a victory, and an almost-certain promotion to next year's PGA Tour by virtue of his second-place standing on the Nationwide Tour money list.
There's almost no way to quantify how amazing his story is. Do you start with the fact that his first heart transplant was at age 12, and he still became a junior star who played at the University of Georgia? Or do you emphasize the fact that the transplanted heart faltered in 2008, and Compton had to go in for an unfathomable second heart transplant?
If anybody in your family has ever been a transplant recipient, you know well the incredible feeling of fortune. If anybody in your family has ever been a heart transplant recipient, you know there is no way to comprehend that your relative's chest was opened, his or her's faltering heart was removed, and a new heart was implanted. This goes beyond our powers of understanding.
That one transplant succeeded is a miracle. That two succeeded is beyond comprehension. That he is now on his third heart, counting the viral heart he was born with, and now doing things in his golf career he'd never done before is … well, I told you it's hard to tell the story without getting too sentimental.
Compton's Sunday 65 completed a charge from two strokes back, and he, like you, is overwhelmed by it all.
"The guy who sees me inside the ropes sees me as a regular golfer," he told reporters in Mexico on Sunday. "But at the end of the day, when I put my head down, I realize how lucky I am. To be able to say I'll be playing on the PGA Tour only four years after my heart transplant is unbelievable. I don't really know what my future is in life; hopefully I can get a win on tour now."
It would be just another mind-blowing chapter in a tale already so.
Mulligan of the week
• If I wanted to break out the blunt instrument today, I'd write that Sergio Garcia's entire last three years need a mulligan. Winless since the 2008 Players Championship, Sergio's once-shining career has devolved, steadily, into a morass of unfulfilled promise. There were times in 2009 and 2010 it was depressing to even catch a fleeting glimpse of him on the golf course. It was like seeing a friend you'd drifted away from, and had nothing to say to anymore.
Well, good ole Sergio is having a mini-rebirth in 2011, believe it or not. His tie for seventh at this year's U.S. Open was impressive, even if it meant he finished 11 shots behind Rory McIlroy. A top-10 at Bay Hill and at Qatar on the European Tour earlier this year spoke to a more consistent effort from El Nino, who is now 31 and well past the boy-wonder stage. He's more like El Almost Middle Aged Dude-o.
So there he was on Sunday in Germany, in a playoff at the BMW International with countryman Pablo Larrazabal. A chance to win for Sergio! (We'll overlook the fact that he made four bogeys on the back nine to blow the win in regulation.)
And he fought, too. One playoff hole turned into two, into three, into four, and on the fifth playoff hole, Garcia had a lengthy birdie putt for the win … until he ran it some five feet past.
Now he needed five feet to extend the match, and you could see it coming like one of his 27 pre-shot waggles from the early 2000s:
Sergio missed the putt.
Larrazabal won the playoff, and El Nino's El Drought-o continues.
The bright side is, Garcia qualified for next month's British Open. The down side is, that will likely just be one more major that passes him by.
So, for the sake of humanity, and for Sergio's sanity, let's go back out to that fifth playoff hole, put that golf ball five feet away from the hole and … give that Nino a mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
• "It's impressive … amazing … I'm so proud of her … She's the new face of the LPGA." – Annika Sorenstam, via telephone, to The Golf Channel, during Yani Tseng's Sunday coronation at the LPGA Championship
That's about as mellow and chatty as you'll hear Annika. Clearly relaxed in her new role as mother to two children and happy to pump up a young woman who has shown Annika so much respect, Sorenstam spent five minutes with Terry Gannon and Judy Rankin on the phone Sunday for a little perspective on this PYT (Powerful Yani Tseng).
Annika told the story of Tseng bringing over a bottle of wine to her home – "She has good taste in wine," Annika added – and Tseng peppering Annika with questions about scheduling, travel, media, caddies, essentially all the things that go into winning majors beyond golf swings, short game and course management. In the process, Annika said she thinks Tseng's mental game is as strong as her driver. Tseng backed up that argument by telling Lerner that she was inspired by McIlroy's eight-shot win at Congressional, saying: "Hey, I want to do that, too."
Rankin shared the tidbit that Tseng admitted going to her hotel room Saturday night and watching The Golf Channel replay. Tseng's review of her own game? "She said she was glad to see her English was improving," Rankin said, another indicator of Tseng's complete package.
Lerner noted on TGC that Tseng's visit to the Broadmoor (Colorado) in two weeks will be massive, as a U.S. Women's Open is the only thing stopping Tseng from the career Grand Slam at age 22. Tseng's response was to say she was looking forward to getting some away time up in the mountains of Colorado if she could, to experience the beauty.
Maybe that's what it will take for Tseng to truly break through – a United States Open, witnessed by Johnny Miller in the NBC booth. Can't wait for that BMOW.
Where do we go from here?
• This may be the first time in Lateral Hazard history we've gone this deep in the column without even mentioning the PGA Tour event, but that's how much better a story Tseng, Compton and Sergio are. Sorry, Freddy Jacobson. Just sayin'.
Again, the PGA Tour event this week carries all the sizzle of a wet firecracker. Tiger Woods will skip his own event because of "doctor's orders," as he says, and the field will be headlined by Nick Watney, K.J. Choi and Gary Woodland. The women are off, getting ready for the U.S. Open next week, and the Euros are at the French Open, an event McIlroy was supposed to play, but will not as he readies himself for Sandwich's British Open in two weeks. Maybe he can spend some time watching Yani Tseng videotape. Can't hurt.
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