Tseng looks for hometown inspiration
For world No 1 Yani Tseng, winning at home is extra special.
The 23-year-old female golf star says this week's Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship will be one of the most important contests on her tour schedule.
"When I saw so many fans last year, I wanted to win it for them, not just for me," Tseng said on Tuesday.
"That feeling of hometown support was so strong, and the fans motivated me to push forward and do my best. If I can win again, that would be amazing."
Top players tried their hand at Chinese calligraphy in front of the picturesque National Palace Museum in Taipei on Tuesday. The scene was fitting: Zen-like calm before the competitive storm that starts in two days at the Sunrise Golf and Country Club in Yangmei, Taiwan.
All eyes will be on Tseng as she tries to defend last year's title in front of the hometown crowd. But that task has taken on a new level of difficulty due to a prolonged slump in her performance this season.
Tseng has not won a tournament since March. She failed to finish in the top 10 for 11 consecutive contests from June to October.
So far this year, she has won only three LPGA tournaments, and her 1 214 334 US dollars in total prize money puts her in fifth place, behind top two earners Inbee Park of South Korea (1 979 926 US dollars) and Stacy Lewis of the United States (1 632 055 US dollars).
In contrast, Tseng seemed unstoppable in 2011, when she won seven LPGA tournaments and earned 2 921 713 US dollars on the tour - nearly doubled that of her closest competitor.
Golf fans finally got a taste of the once-dominant golfer last weekend at the KEB Hanabank Championship in South Korea, where Tseng missed the play-off cut by one stroke and finished third.
The big question is - which version of Yani Tseng will turn up at Sunrise?
Li Chien-chung, golf analyst for the Apple Daily newspaper in Taiwan, believes Tseng is a bit young and inexperienced in the spotlight, and as a result, she has worn herself down this year with the pressure to stay at No 1.
"At every tourney, she has to think about how well she needs to play, what score she needs to get, and who is chasing after her," Li said. "This all translates to personal pressure, and the fact that she's not having as much fun as last year really shows when she meets the press."
The LPGA field is also very competitive this year, with 17 winners among 24 tournaments so far. Lewis, currently ranked no 2, has tied Tseng with three wins. Three other players - Ai Miyazato, Inbee Park, and Jiyai Shin - have each won two tournaments. Lewis and Shin will skip Sunrise this week.
For Tseng, home field advantage offers more than just cheering crowds. Tseng grew up near Sunrise and consistently practised there.
Located in the foothills of Taiwan's central mountain range, Sunrise will reliably challenge golfers with strong and fickle winds that can change directions as the ball moves down the fairway. Winds at last year's tournament topped 40 kilometres per hour.
Golfers Sandra Gal and Michelle Wie both said Tuesday that they expected the wind to pose the greatest challenge on the course. But Tseng relished that prospect.
"I've practised at Sunrise for six to seven years. So the stronger the wind on the course, the greater the advantage for me," she said.