Coming in second does not sit well with the top player in women’s golf. In fact, it kinda ticks her off. So when Yani Tseng finished three shots back of Stacy Lewis in last year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship, she added an Angry Bird figurine to her trophy case as a reminder that she had some unfinished business at Dinah Shore’s tourney.
“I put an Angry Bird on the Kraft Nabisco trophy…because I think the size fits perfect,” Tseng, who won the event in 2010 and would earn her sixth major title with a victory this week at Mission Hills Country Club, told reporters Tuesday. “That means I didn’t win last year, and I want to try to get this year and try to focus on this year.”
A gift from fans, the Angry Bird ornament — a physical embodiment of one of the stars of the popular puzzle game for the iPhone, iPad, and other platforms — rests on Tseng’s 2010 Dinah Shore Trophy and brings a smile to the lips of the world’s No. 1.
“I just think it’s very funny to put it on there,” she said. “It looks good.”
Hoping to fill the spot in her trophy cabinet where she believes another Kraft prize belongs, Tseng has put in hours of work on the physical and mental aspects of her game. She particularly sought to gain more control over her emotions after hitting the occasional errant shot.
“I had been very stressful, hitting a bad shot, hitting a bad putt, and I wasn’t being as patient as I am right now, so I’m learning from that week,” Tseng said about how she handled losing a two-shot lead in the final round last year. “It took me a couple weeks to go through that because I was crying after the round, even after a couple days when I think about it.
“I was crying because I always tell myself, ‘oh, if I don’t do that, I can win if I didn’t do that,’” she said. “So I learned from that. I bring it to next few tournaments and I played great, and I think that’s very important thing for me. Even I didn’t win, but I learned something from it.”
Working with a mental coach, Tseng has tried to focus fully on each shot in every tournament, whether it’s a major like this week’s tilt, or any of the three events she’s won in five tries leading up to the season’s first prestigious championship.
“So last year, every tournament, my goal is focus on every shot, like give 100 percent effort to every shot, focus as much as I can, because it’s very hard to focus on five hours a round,” she said. “So I focus on one shot, if I count 72 shots…I only have to focus on one and a half hours in the day.”
One routine that Tseng has dropped from her repertoire is touching a trophy before the tourney. Superstitious sorts might believe last year’s defending champ jinxed herself when she gave the trophy a loving pat before teeing off in the opening round. After the outcome, the 23-year-old superstar swore off even glancing at the hardware before it’s time to hoist it in the winner’s circle.
“After [last year], I won’t touch a trophy again. I will never see it again,” she said. “Even when I see it I would just pretend I’m not seeing anything….Just [try] to ignore the trophy and focus on the tee shot.”
Should Tseng fall short again this year, she may wish she had eschewed another pre-tourney ritual. Rating her 2010 winner’s plunge into Poppie’s Pond “pretty cool,” Tseng said her friends were unimpressed. So she practiced the move at home.
“After that I go in my swimming pool and try to jump in a different pose to see what’s the best,” she said, adding that she would give it more serious consideration “after I’m winning.”
Tseng, by the way, was not alone in hoping to make a good impression should she be called upon to take a dive. Suzann Pettersen has practiced her form as well.
“There’s a reason why I have a pool at home, too,” the one-time major champion and world’s third-ranked golfer said, earning laughter from the media.