The Man Behind the Queen of Golf
LPGA superstar Yani Tseng reigns supreme in women's golf. Her father shares his secrets to raising a world champion.
The Man Behind the Queen of GolfBy Fuyuan Hsiao
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 494 )
By commercial standards, an investment that generates a four-fold return over a span of 17 years is not necessarily wise or lucrative. But if that investment creates world No. 1 status, manifold sources of non-operating income, and numerous historic records, then such a return on investment will make even highly successful stock market speculators green with envy.
Over the past 17 years, Mao Shin "Charlie" Tseng has invested more than NT$50 million in the golfing career of his daughter Yani. By March of this year, Yani had won more than US$8 million in prize money at golf tournaments, not counting some US$5 million in additional income per year from endorsements.
The previous week, Yani Tseng had won again. Only two months into the LPGA season, the 23-year-old won three out of five tournaments, remaining the top-ranked woman golfer for the 59th week in a row.
In a quiet residential neighborhood in the rural town of Guishan, in northeastern Taoyuan County, Charlie Tseng sits in his 15-square-meter ground-floor office, the walls of which are plastered with photos of a smiling Yani with her golf trophies, awards, and newspaper clippings. Tseng is a dyed-in-the-wool "tiger dad." However, he differs from the typical Chinese "tiger" parent in that he did not demand that his daughter excel in school or do well in music and art, but encouraged athletic talent.
Currently an oil company distributor, Tseng used to run a golf driving range. When Yani was just five years old, he often took her with him to play alongside the adults.
In the beginning the golfing was just for fun. But when Tseng later on discovered that Yani "liked to show off and struck a chord with the audience," he decided to nurture her talent as best as he could. He hired a coach and also sent her to Australia to work on her golf swing technique there.
Why did he pick golf for his daughter and not another sport?
Tseng did a simple calculation: the short term benefits of golf were that the family ran a driving range, so practice would not cost extra, and Yani was unlikely to meet the wrong people, because her parents would be watching over her. In the long term, since golf is not an extreme sport, Yani would not run a high risk of injury and would therefore be able to have a longer career. And should she fail to make it as a professional golfer, she could still earn a decent, above average, monthly income by working as a coach.
Tseng frankly admits, "I managed Yani like a business."
Corporate Management Produces Golf Queen
Yani took up golf at five, got a professional coach at eight, and went to the United States to further her golfing skills at 12. As a 13-year-old she won the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships, and she became a professional golfer at the age of 18. By her 22nd birthday she had become the world's top-ranked woman golfer. All this is owed to her father's "golf queen production process."
Charlie Tseng used to accompany Yani to the golf course almost every day, and he encouraged her to wager with her fellow golfers on who would win.
"The betting gave her the will to win," notes Tseng with a laugh. Tseng and his daughter look strikingly alike, except that the father's hair has already grown white.
He believes that betting steels Yani's courage and prevents her from getting cold feet when out on the green before a crowd. "When you gamble, you're stressed. Your hands get stiff, and you won't play well. That's for sure," Tseng points out. He told Yani that if she had a losing streak, she needed to muster the ambition to seize back victory.
Tseng recalls that because he used betting to build his daughter's courage, Yani was not afraid to play against more formidable rivals from childhood on.
Yani shot to fame when she beat Michelle Wie, the defending American star golfer, at the age of 15 in the final of the 2004 U.S. Women's Pub Links. "She always chooses to eat the spicy food," Tseng remarks metaphorically. The stronger her opponents, the better Yani plays.
In order to foster Yani's courage and calculated daring, Tseng buys golf books and watches videos to advance his own professional expertise and to impart his insights to his daughter. He once told her, "You can't be afraid when you stand at the tee. You have to be daring."
When Yani is in a tournament, Tseng watches her moves and her facial expressions. When she has a strange look on her face, she is uptight and will most likely not play well. When she is relaxed, a daring expression will naturally show on her face.
The greatest gift Yani got from her father is "goal-setting skills." Tseng has always demanded that Yani set goals for herself in whatever she does.
Tseng is very proud that he once won the Taipei Country Club championship, beating several thousand fellow club members. The first goal that Yani set for herself after taking up golf was to "knock her father out" by the age of eleven.
That year, she did indeed beat him. And when she was 12, Yani set a bigger goal for herself: to become the Number 1 in the world. Ten years later her dream had turned into reality.
Yani recalls that whenever she went to golf practice she would clearly visualize what she wanted to practice on that particular day and then resolutely pursue her goal. It was a lesson she had learned from her father: For an athlete there is no improvisation or randomness, only goals and discipline.
Endurance training also built up Yani's explosive force that allows her to stage stunning turnarounds.
One sports commentator describes Yani as the golf player with the most formidable ability to stage come-from-behind victories. When lagging behind several shots in her score, she often suddenly mobilizes her explosive power to clinch victory. Charlie Tseng believes that Yani has such staying power because she has set goals for herself.
As the father of the world golf queen, he has witnessed first-hand how tough the life of a professional golfer is, an experience that is indelibly etched into his memory.
He acknowledges that Yani missed out on childhood, going to school from Monday to Friday and then spending the weekend practicing at the golf course. "She didn't have any friends. Her friends were all opponents," remarks Tseng with resignation.
"I think she's amazing," Charlie says. "The courses they play are really difficult." As he sits on the sofa in his office, Yani is playing a tournament abroad. Not surprisingly, the flat screen TV in the office is permanently tuned into the ESPN sports channel.
He is well aware that the world's 30 top-ranked golfers all have the potential to become the No. 1 and that Yani will have to fight hard to maintain her lead, given that so many are vying for her crown.
Probably this is why sports are so fascinating. You can't always win, but if you want to win, you need to keep going all out.
Translated from the Chinese by Suanne Ganz