With her one-hole, sudden-death playoff triumph at the LPGA Tour’s NW Arkansas Championship on Sunday, Yani Tseng clinched golf’s Player of the Year honors. Sure, she already had the LPGA title sewn up, but the 22-year-old who became the youngest golfer — man or woman — to win five majors when she captured the 2011 Women’s British Open, rules all of golfdom with a huge game and an affable but dogged persona.
“After the second hole I was a hole behind and I keep telling myself, ‘it’s okay, we still have lots of holes, stay patient and be always positive and keep focused on every shot and don’t worry about too much,’” Tseng told reporters following her birdie in overtime to beat second-round co-leader Amy Yang.
Tseng missed a four-foot putt on the final hole of regulation that would have forestalled extra frames. The second time was a charm, however, as she sank her birdie putt when she and Yang replayed the par-5 18th.
The two began the day sharing the lead and each posted a 68 in the finale of the 54-hole tourney at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Ark. After flying the green into the grandstand with her approach shot to 18 in regulation, Yang was safely aboard in two for the playoff. In the extra frame, Tseng’s second shot skittered over the putting surface into the fringe. Each then putted to within about six feet, and after Yang missed her attempt, Tseng drained hers to defend her title.
The Arkansas conquest was Tseng’s fifth tour title of the year and the 10th of her career. Sunday’s win also moved the long-hitter from Taiwan into select company. Louise Suggs, Micky Wright, Kathy Whitworth, Nancy Lopez, and Pat Bradley are some of the big names in women’s golf with five wins in a single season.
On the men’s side, Keegan Bradley has had a year for the record books. After lifting his first PGA Tour trophy in May at the Byron Nelson Championship, the New England rookie (and nephew of Hall of Famer Pat) won the first major in which he ever competed, the PGA Championship.
The PGA has several other two-time winners — Mark Wilson, Bubba Watson, Steve Stricker, Nick Watney, and Webb Simpson (who won last week’s Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston) — and one remarkable redemption story in Rory McIlroy’s U.S. Open win following his Masters meltdown. But no one on either tour has the portfolio that Tseng will bring with her to the season-ending tally for “Best of 2011.”
In addition to the five LPGA wins, the world’s No. 1 began the year with four worldwide victories, including a run of three in a row. Tseng will try to notch her sixth W of the season when the women tee it up at this week’s LPGA Classic on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Prattville, Ala.
(Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. Check her out on the Waggle Room, Boston Golf Examiner, National Golf Examiner, and GottaGoGolf websites. You may also follow Kay on Twitter @golfexaminer.)WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?