World no. 1 Yani Tseng is a rare breed. Not because she's the most dominating player in golf, or because she likes to dress up like Harry Potter, or because she writes herself notes to remember to walk with confidence and smile between shots. She's one of the few greats in this game who still rely entirely on instinct when they swing a golf club. "When I'm out there, I don't think about anything," she says. "I just grip it and rip it. I don't like to worry about technique." It's a mind-set that suits Tseng's coach, Gary Gilchrist, just fine. "When anybody's playing their best, they're not thinking," he says. "So we work on Yani's preparation and setup, and on training muscle memory. We're not trying to change her swing, just improve on her tendencies."
Tseng grew up in Taiwan. Her coach, Tony Kao, laid the groundwork for her golf career at age 5 by telling her to just hit the ball as hard as she could for a solid year without worrying about the outcome. The strategy shaped an aggressive, powerful motion that belies Tseng's slight frame. It's a swing that has catapulted her to the top of the LPGA's driving-distance chart, won her 12 worldwide titles in 2011, and put her so far ahead in the Rolex Rankings that she could take the rest of 2012 off and would still be No. 1.
Despite her domination, the swing isn't perfect. "Yani's so aggressive, she tends to overswing," Gilchrist says. "She sometimes turns her shoulders past 90 degrees, and when that happens, she starts to lean left at the top, and the club gets laid off."
As a result, she drops the club too far inside on the downswing. It gets stuck behind her, and the clubface remains open through impact, causing a weak slice.
The fix is in the little things. Tseng has worked hard on creating more spine tilt away from the target at address, which helps her wind into her right side on the backswing. "She's setting up with her right hip lower now, which causes more restriction in her hip turn, helps get her chest over her right knee at the top, and stops her left arm from getting too high," Gilchrist says. For stability, they do elastic-band exercises and ball tosses, naturally shaping a more compact pivot that requires no thinking. "She grabs a band and really winds into her right side," Gilchrist says. "And when she tosses that ball, it comes at you at a speed nobody can imagine."
-- Stina Sternberg