Yani Tseng has seen life at both ends of the LPGA Tour.
As a 19-year-old relative unknown from Taiwan, Tseng won for the first time as a pro at the 2008 LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace. It started Tseng's historic rise to No. 1 — a position she held for more than two years. She won five major championships faster than any player, male or female.
Now 25, Tseng returns to the Baltimore area for the inaugural International Crown at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills ranked 53rd in the world, having not won a tournament in more than two years. Tseng is looking to recapture some of the magic — and the fun — she found early in her career.
"I think I just keep putting too much pressure on myself and the result, the score, the ranking," Tseng said Tuesday. "I try to forget about that, but it's just really hard. I try to let it go, but it's easy to say, it's very hard to do."
Every time Tseng seems to take a step forward in finding the form that made her nearly as unbeatable as Tiger Woods once was on the PGA tour, she takes a step — or three — back. After finishing tied for second at the Kingsmill Championship in mid-May, her best result of the year, Tseng missed the cut the next week.
Tseng is coming off missing the cut at the Ricoh Women's British Open after shooting an opening-round 82 at Royal Birkdale, where she won in 2010. She has missed the cut 11 times over the past two years after going five years in which she missed just seven cuts.
"I play so good on the practice round and the practice range ... and I just need to really let it go and forget about everything else," she said. "Forget about who I am, just play like a kid, play like all the kids out there and enjoy every shot that I do. Doesn't matter if it's good or bad, but always just be myself and just try to have fun."
That's what happened at Bulle Rock, when Tseng overcame an opening-day 1-over par 73 to win in a playoff over Maria Hjorth of Sweden. They were one shot ahead of the two most dominant players on the tour, Lorena Ochoa of Mexico and Annika Sorenstam of Sweden.
"I have lots of great memories out there," Tseng said. "I love to come back to this place [Baltimore]. I wasn't expecting anything out there at all [back in 2008]. Now I expect much more."
Phoebe Yao, her 22-year-old Chinese Taipei teammate in Thursday's opening match against Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson of the United States, has fond memories of being at home watching that LPGA Championship on television.
"I was shouting in my room, running everywhere, saying, 'Yani won! Yani won!,'" Yao recalled Tuesday.
Tseng will be looking in the mirror a little when she tees it up against Lewis and Thompson.
In Lewis, Tseng will see the player currently ranked No. 1 in the world. The 19-year-old Thompson won her first major this year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, at the same age Tseng was at Bulle Rock.
Lewis, who rose to No. 1 for the first time last year at age 28, said she wouldn't have been able to handle the pressure of being considered the world's top female golfer at the age Tseng was.
"If you see it as a burden and as pressure, then you're not going to enjoy it," Lewis said.
Paula Creamer, who will also represent the U.S.in the International Crown, said it has been "tough to watch" Tseng's struggle. Just as Woods motivated a generation of players to include fitness in their preparation, Tseng made her competitors go to more of a power game.
"She changed our game. She changed my game from how I look at the game of golf," Creamer said.
Creamer said she attributes Tseng's decline to her inability to control her driver. Where Tseng's nearly 300-yard blasts once gave her a huge advantage, her wild tee shots have made it difficult for her to recover.
"It's just her ballstriking issues," Creamer said. "Hitting her driver was one of her strengths — she could bomb it out there, she's so long, she plays like a guy. Her putting has actually been really good. It's obviously a confidence issue. She played so well for so long, now it's like's 'What's going on?' She's going to get through it."
Tseng doesn't seem as confident as she sees a new generation of players such as Thompson and 17-year-old sensation Lydia Ko of New Zealand breaking her records.
"I'm just getting older and older," she said with a nervous laugh.
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