HSBS Women's Champions Pre-tournament notes and interviews

Ai Miyazato
Photo Credit: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Ai Miyazato of Japan in action during the pro-am prior to the start of the HSBC Women's Champions at the Tanah Merah Country Club.

HSBC Women’s Champions
Tanah Merah Country Club
Feb. 22, 2012
Pre-tournament notes

Yani Tseng, Rolex Rankings No. 1 and winner of last week’s Honda LPGA Thailand
Karrie Webb, Rolex Rankings No. 19 and 2011 HSBC Women’s Champions winner
Ai Miyazato, Rolex Rankings No. 9 and 2010 HSBC Women’s Champions winner
Paula Creamer, Rolex Rankings No. 6

The next “Champion of Champions” will be crowned on Sunday at the fifth-annual HSBC Women’s Champions at Tanah Merah Country Club in Singapore. Each of the four prior winners of the $1.4 million tournament has come from the upper echelon of the women’s professional game. At the inaugural event in 2008, then-Rolex Rankings No. 1 Lorena Ochoa won the event by a whopping 11 strokes over Annika Sorenstam and set the tournament record with a 7-under-par 65 in the second round. In 2009, South Korea’s Jiyai Shin won the tournament by two strokes and went on to top the LPGA Official Money List and win the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award at season’s end. Shin would go on to hold the Rolex Rankings No. 1 spot in 2010 following Ochoa’s retirement. A year later, Ai Miyazato became the first player since 1966 to win consecutive season-opening events with her win at the HSBC Women’s Champions and went on to hold the Rolex Rankings No. 1 spot for 11 weeks later in the season. Last season, LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame member Karrie Webb became the fourth high-profile winner in Singapore with her 37th career LPGA victory at the HSBC Women’s Champions. Webb went on to earn her 38th victory at the season’s next event.

Karrie Webb is set to defend her HSBC title this week following a strong showing in Thailand. Last week, the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame member tied for ninth and was in the hunt on Sunday until a quadruple-bogey nine at the seventh hole knocked her out of contention. Despite the mishap, Webb remains positive about the way her game is progressing this season. “I was pleased with the way I played last week, although I had one bad hole that set me back a bit,” said Webb. “I had a chance until then and that’s all I can really ask for, but I probably didn’t even expect that much after the way I played in Australia. It was a good improvement.”

Webb admitted today that her victory at last year’s HSBC Women’s Champions was more about mental toughness than flawless play. “Sometimes when you don’t win for a long time, you think you have to be at 100 percent to win,” she said. “But it wasn’t the perfect Karrie Webb golf game. It was huge for me mentally to know that I don’t have to be at 100 percent to win.” In addition to holding off Chie Arimura, Webb also defeated Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng by three shots en route to her “Champion of Champions” designation last year.

Following her win at last week’s Honda LPGA Thailand, Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng returns to Singapore in hopes of adding an HSBC title to her ever-growing résumé. The 23-year-old now boasts 13 career LPGA victories – including eight in the last 12 months – and leads the race for a third-consecutive Rolex Player of the Year award. “Last week, it was a good start for me and I think that's very important for me that I know I can keep winning tournaments, keep playing good golf and have mental set up and mentally be tough,” she said.

Diamonds are a golfer’s best friend. At the pre-tournament player dinner on Wednesday night at historic Raffles Hotel, players will model Tiffany jewelry valued at a total of approximately $11 million. Said Paula Creamer, “I'll be wearing some diamonds tonight, I'm very excited. I might… run with those things on.”

Everybody loves Singapore… especially Ai Miyazato. The former Rolex Rankings No. 1 was a winner at the HSBC Women’s Champions in 2010 – when she became the first player since 1966 to win back-to-back events to begin a season – and looks forward to returning every year. This week, she’ll look to improve upon a second place finish at last week’s Honda LPGA Thailand, a tournament she also won in 2010. “I love this place, because the food is good and the people are really nice, and very clean city and everything is really convenient,” said Miyazato. “Especially the golf course is beautiful, and always challenging. And this is my favourite tournament, and I have a really good memory since a couple of years ago that I won this tournament.”

Anticipation is building for the annual Caddy Awards that take place annually following the second-round of the HSBC Women’s Champions. Votes are being cast this week. Last year, Ai Miyazato’s caddy Mick Seaborn was the recipient. For the third-consecutive year, HSBC has charged students from the Raffles Design Institute in Singapore with creating a design for the Caddy of the Year bib to be worn during third round play. The winning designer will be revealed on Saturday, Feb. 26.

Tweet of the day: “On the 13th hole here at Tanah Merah you can actually smell the burned rubber from the tires of the landing aircrafts” – @sophiegustafson. Gustafson is referring to the runway at Singapore Changi Airport, one of the busiest international airports in the world, which neighbors Tanah Merah Country Club.

Yani Tseng, Rolex Rankings No. 1

MODERATOR: We would like to welcome the Rolex Rankings No. 1 player in the world, Yani Tseng, to the interview room here at the HSBC Women's Champions. You're fresh off another victory at the Honda LPGA Thailand last week. That was your 13th victory in the last 12 or so months. Following the amazing year you had, I know you talk about this a lot, but how important was it for you to get a victory at the start of this season?
YANI TSENG: I mean, I think it means a lot for me because I feel lots of pressure this year in Melbourne and now in Singapore. I really want to win a tournament and I don't know if I can do the same thing like last year.

I work very hard during the off-season. I kind of just feel like so many pressure for myself and I just feel I don't know if I can do it. I mean, last week, it was a good start for me and I think that's very important for me that I keep -- that I know I can do it again and that I know I can keep winning tournaments, keep playing good golf and have mental set up and mentally be tough.

It feels good out there last week, playing with Ai, and I see lots of people so it's always great to play in the LPGA and feels really fresh and I got lots of confidence for this week. I think I can't wait to start this week again.

MODERATOR: The winner of this tournament every year is calls the Champion of Champions, Lorena, Ai, Jiyai and Karrie have all either been the Rolex Rankings No. 1 like you at some point in their career, or like Karrie, Player of the Year and Hall of Famer. Do you think it's your turn to win the 'Champion of Champions' title?
YANI TSENG: Yeah, I mean, I think every year -- I mean, this is my fourth year. Every year I come closer and closer each year. I feel very good right now and feel I have a very good chance to win this tournament if I keep doing the things I keep doing, my mental setup, I'm very confident in my skills. I wish I could be part of the champion of champions. All of the players that are winning this tournament, if I can be part of those, I think it would be my honour if I can win this tournament.

MODERATOR: After last year where a lot of things went right, what kind of things were you doing in the off-season to try to improve?
YANI TSENG: I changed my swing a little bit to be more consistent and I worked very hard on my physical, my cardio and everything, every day improve and I was very happy to see how much I improved on my physical and my skill.

This year, I come here, I feel my swing, I feel I'm improve and I feel I play more consistently. I feel very happy to see how much I improve on this year and for the off-season, and I just can't wait to see, what can I do for this year.

Q. You've had a phenomenal year, you won on average once a month last year. Does it become easier as you win more and now that you're No. 1, are you playing a little bit differently from, let's say, two years ago? What goes through your mind these days when you're in a position to win? Do you feel more pressure as the world No. 1 or more pressure or do you feel more confident that you are able to win a tournament at any given time?
YANI TSENG: I feel more pressure. But I feel more confident, too, so it's kind of both ways. I'm very enjoying the last year, like first couple of months, like No. 1, I feel lots of pressure.
But now I enjoy talking with the media and I have more interviews and I enjoy everyone coming out watching me play and getting bigger crowds every month, every tournament. I think I'm having more relaxation. It was fun to play. There's no easy way to win tournaments, because we have so many great, great players on the Tour.

You have to play good to win a tournament. It was hard to get lucky to win. I feel I still have a long way to go and I need to keep working hard and I have lots of things I need to learn, and players, every time I play with them, it was a great experience for me to build confidence every week and to learn something every week.

Q. You had a phenomenal year last year. How do you improve on that this year? Do you think that the Grand Slam is possible, to win all four Majors, and who do you see as your main rivals this year?
YANI TSENG: For the Grand Slam, of course, U.S. Open is one of my goals but I won't -- I kind of keep to myself if I don't win this year; but I have many more years to come but I would love to win as soon as I can.

But every time I go to the U.S. Open I just feel more pressure than any tournament, just more stress. That's a tournament I really want and sometimes I'm just trying too hard. So this year, I mean, me and my team, we'll be talking about this tournament and how can we prepare for the U.S. Open and try to keep it relaxed the whole year and keep very fresh, even end of the year.

So I mean, I think the Majors, Grand Slam, I think would be huge for me but I just try to not think about that way. I mean, this year, my goal is Player of the Year. I think that's all of the players, they want it, too. All of the players are looking for Player of the Year. So I think that motivates us to work harder and to achieve that award.

Q. Do you think it's possible to win all of them this year?
YANI TSENG: It's possible. You never know. Sometimes you're lucky and you never know. We have first major in the next couple of months and I think we'll prepare for that, and looking forward to play and try not to put too much pressure on myself.

Q. You played a practice round today, how do you find Tanah Merah this time and what do you think will be the key?
YANI TSENG: It's a great golf course and in very good condition right now.

Every year I come here, I find a way to play this golf course. Every year I'm learning from this golf course. I feel like I'm learning and I know what is my strategy on this golf course better than the first couple of years. Every year, I just find a better way to play on this golf course and I feel every year, it comes a little easier every year.

So I mean, it was great for me, and the green was very tough. And I think you need to be very patient and be more focussed on this golf course, because it's kind of easy to get high numbers on this golf course.

Q. You played with some of the Chinese junior golfers; how do you feel, and did it remind you of your younger days?
YANI TSENG: Happy to see them. HSBC always sponsors a junior programme for a long time so it's very big support for golf around the world. I'm happy to see them every year, every year they are playing a Pro-Am for one hole with us, and it was very nice to be chatting and to see what they were doing. They are coming to Orlando, so we are seeing if I am there and we can practise together, so I think that's going to be fun.

Q. Can you talk about how you've improved your English, which is fantastic; what's your handicap now? Would you say it's scratch or plus one?
YANI TSENG: No, maybe plus five. (Laughing) No, still not quite there yet.

But I remember like four years ago I was doing a press conference in this room here, and I had a hard time to speak English and I was very afraid if you're going to ask me a question because I was like, please, don't ask me a question. But now, you know, I'm just enjoying. I love to talk. I just hopefully don't talk too much.

Q. How have you learned to speak English so well?
YANI TSENG: Keep talking. I'm not afraid to be talking to other people, no matter what I say. I'm learning from the way that I'm talking to you and the vocabulary, use it for the next time I'm talking.
I went to school three years ago, two years ago, for like three weeks in the language school.

MODERATOR: You've also said you're not afraid to make mistakes when you speak in English because you learn from them.
YANI TSENG: Yeah, because when I would have a mistake and people would tell me, or I would ask -- I would never do the same thing again, because I'm learning. So I think it's good. So I'm not afraid if I'm going to say like bad pronunciation or something like that, because I think that's the way you can learn more.

Q. When you were a junior golfer playing in Asia, we always used to call you 'Ruby.' What's happened to Ruby now?
YANI TSENG: Yes, my English name a long time ago from my English teacher. But like Yani is my real name. I had Yani in Chinese, too, so I think that's the way people -- it's easier to remember.

Q. The Majors will always be the main target on an individual basis, but what do you feel about perhaps playing for an Olympic Gold one day?
YANI TSENG: Very exciting. I was very happy golf is back in the Olympics, and it's going to be very good for golf and great for the country and it's going to be an honour to play for my country. I know it's like four years ahead, but I wish I can keep doing my successful and wish -- with the juniors from China or Taiwan, hope some juniors come out and we can play in the Olympics together.

Q. How much do you think you've improved your golf game the last two years, and how much more room for improvement do you think there? How much better can you get than you are now?
YANI TSENG: I think you can always get better. I mean, if you shot 68 today, you can always go 65. You can always improve.

But I find how my game is improved, I feel fairway is wider and I feel green was bigger, because I mean every year, I have improved. So I'm not afraid if the pin is left or right because automatically the fairway was wider. So I think that's the way I find to improve. And I don't feel like I'm afraid to do some tricky shot and do some like crazy shot, imagination. And every time I kept hitting closer and closer, I feel good and accomplished, and that's how I improve my game every year.

Q. Have you tried a belly putter?
YANI TSENG: No, I never tried it before but I see lots of players doing it right now.

Q. You talked about your team and obviously you're travelling all around the world playing. Who is on your team and how do they help you with your game? And for a long time you have talked about physical fitness and we notice you have a lot of straps on your arm and neck. Are they to fix an injury or is it just prevention?
YANI TSENG: This is going to fix my injury because I have this problem, when I was a rookie year, so it's been for five years already. Last year it was pretty good but I took three weeks off, didn't play golf and started playing again and it just start hurting again. But I hopefully will get better, because I want to get my physical stronger. Maybe that's why I was a little bit injured and try to protect and doing ice and ultrasound every day to try to keep it loose.

My team, I have a couple members of my team that's very new, they start last year, my trainer and my manager, Naya, are here, and they help a lot organize things outside the ropes. Because I get more sponsors and more people coming out to watch and more media interviews and they kind of organize and I don't have to worry too much and I can always focus on the golf course. If I have something, say after this press conference, I will always ask her, do I say anything bad or wrong or what can I do for a better press conference this time. So they always tell me, they encourage, you're doing a great job this time.

So every time I'm learning and they are not afraid to tell me the bad things and they are not afraid to tell me, oh, why you're so mad or you're bad or you should not do that. So I think that's going to help me a lot. Last week I've been very nervous and stressful and we have a little team meeting and they tell me what can I do and how I can improve and I think that helps me last week a lot.

Karrie Webb, 2011 HSBC Women’s Champions winner and Rolex Rankings No. 19

Q. Coming off a great week at the Honda LPGA Thailand, how are you feeling?
A. I was pleased with the way I played last week, although I had one bad hole that set me back a bit. I had a chance until then and that’s all I can really ask for, but I probably didn’t even expect that much after the way I played in Australia. It was a good improvement. This week I’m defending and I’m looking forward to a good week.

Q. What’s your best memory of winning here?
A. Probably that I didn’t have my best game, but I still won. Sometimes when you don’t win for a long time, you think you have to be at 100 percent to win. I think it was a really great thing for me to see that – and I think I can win every week, it’s just a matter of doing it – but it wasn’t the perfect Karrie Webb golf game. It was huge for me mentally to know that I don’t have to be at 100 percent to win.

Q. Two weeks removed now from the event at Royal Melbourne, looking back how do you feel about the return of the LPGA to Australia?
A. Even just the announcement of the LPGA coming back to Australia was great for golf – and especially women’s golf – in Australia. Just the extra exposure is great for us. I think it went off well and the fact that we played a course ranked in the top 10 in the world – we don’t always get those opportunities other places in the world, maybe the British – was great for the LPGA and women’s golf in general. The next few years of that event are at quality golf courses as well. I enjoyed the week, although it was a little overwhelming for me and I don’t think my game was quite ready for Royal Melbourne. I might have needed a couple of tournaments under my belt before that.

Ai Miyazato, 2010 HSBC Women’s Champions winner and Rolex Rankings No. 9

Q. We welcome past HSBC Women's Champions winner, Ai Miyazato, to the interview room. Thank you for joining us. A very close call last week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. If you would, just talk about 2012 and obviously you're off to a nice start.
AI MIYAZATO: Yes, I played well last week. I had a really nice -- because I spent time with my family and I had a really good practise in Phoenix and worked with my coaches in the off-season, so I was in good shape.

Q. How nice does it feel to come back to Singapore, an event like this with HSBC as a sponsor, trying to win for your second time?
AI MIYAZATO: I mean, it's always nice to be here, you know, I love this place, because the food is good and the people are really nice, and very clean city and everything is really convenient. Especially the golf course is beautiful, and always challenging. And this is my favorite tournament, and I have a really good memory since a couple of years ago that I won this tournament.

Again, I had a good start last week, so I'm just, you know, ready for this week and hopefully I can win on Sunday.

Q. When you come so close to winning like you did last week, are you more mad that you didn't win, or are you feeling more confident because you were so close.
AI MIYAZATO: I definitely felt more confident, because after 18, I saw that Yani seemed a little emotional, and I thought if I could -- that we are totally different style and she hits really far but I am not hitting really far.

But I think I have a really good short game, so that's why I think we had a really good tournament but almost like kind of inspiring each other, too. So it was really fun and also I have good confidence.

Q. You have been a fantastic champion for women's golf in Japan. Why haven't we seen more professional Japanese women players out of Japan competing at a high level on the LPGA on the world stage?
AI MIYAZATO: Well, because -- there's a couple of reasons I guess. But the Japan Tour is really strong, too, so it's definitely worth it playing in Japan. But for me, I had a dream on this tournament since I was little, so this is my dream come true.

But I think there's just so many younger players playing in the tournaments, the LPGA tournaments, too, so I think they have a chance to play to come overseas and play on the LPGA or whatever.

But I think the level of play at the Japan Tour level is so high that people do decide to stay there. But there will be some players that want to experience more and so you know, as the year progresses, they might be able to see more Japanese players come out of the Japanese Tour.

Q. There are so many young women Asian golfers now. Do you think that puts more pressure on you and what do you think it means for golf for women?
AI MIYAZATO: I don't think any pressure from them, because I think the golf is more worldwide now. So there's no problems with Asian golfers increasing, but I also feel maybe the game of golf and the Asian personality, they fit really well. So I think the more maybe Asian golfers increase, there will be more good influence on each other, as well.

Q. How has golf come through this difficult time in Japan? Are there more tournaments, or more people playing and trying to support the game?
AI MIYAZATO: I definitely -- like especially right after the tsunami and the earthquake, and it was really difficult to focus my game.

But finally I just have to focus my game and I can do anything for Japan, but right now I need to focus my game and try to make the people, the Japanese people, more happy, because that's the only thing I can do right now.

Obviously it's been a very difficult time but I feel the Japanese people, as well as athletes, are all trying to get together to overcome this tough time right now.

Q. You mentioned that golf and the Asian personality fit very well. Can you explain that and does it mean we can expect to see even more golfers coming up from the continent?
AI MIYAZATO: Golf is a really funny sport. I think in golf, physical stature maybe really doesn't matter that much, and it's also a game that requires patience. And I think Asians are perhaps patient people, and they don't get too emotional at times. So maybe that's why I feel that golf and the Asian personality, they fit pretty well.

As for the second part of the question, I hope that more Asians do come out and play golf.

Paula Creamer, Rolex Rankings No. 6

MODERATOR: Welcome back to Singapore to the HSBC Women's Champions. If you would, let's talk about your off-season and what kind of things you were up to on and off the course, any changes you made.
PAULA CREAMER: Yes, I went to Taiwan in December and played, and then after that, I did took a couple of weeks off and started back strong in January. I have a new trainer that I've been working with since, I would say, September, October, and I have noticed some really big changes with that.

And most importantly, I have worked so hard with my coach, David Whelan, on my golf swing. It's probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do, change something that you've had a lot of success with in the past but hopefully this will help me get more consistent longer and just be an overall better player.

So taking that on to the golf course is my new challenge this year.

MODERATOR: What's your motivation to make the changes? Is it winning more or just flaws that you felt you had last year?
PAULA CREAMER: It's getting better. It's just trying to be better on the golf course. Length has always been somewhat of an issue. So I really -- I basically now, in a nutshell, I have two different golf swings. I have a driver swing and then my iron swing. When it's working, it's great and when it's not so good, it's a little different.

But just being so technical is something that I'm not used to. I've been a feel player my whole golf career, and to be on the technical side is a lot harder. I have to do it and I think hopefully at the end of this year I'll look back and say this is the greatest move that I've made.

MODERATOR: Let's talk about this event, amongst the players, there's always a lot of buzz to come back to Singapore. How do you feel about this event and what would it mean for you to play well this week.
PAULA CREAMER: I love Singapore. It has to be one of my Top-5 favourite places that we go to. The people here are incredible. The fans, they love women's golf. It's really nice to come to a place like, that and overall, HSBC does a fantastic job of running an event.

You know, tonight we have Tiffany's thing, we get to wear all of these diamonds and things like that, those are things we don't normally get to do. It's very nice and very welcoming, and I think everyone wants to come and win and be the HSBC Champion.

MODERATOR: So they recruited you for the diamonds?
PAULA CREAMER: I'll be wearing some diamonds tonight, I'm very excited. I might take a run, a hiatus with those things on (smiling).

Q. We are seeing the emergence of a lot of young stars recently. What do you think this means for women's golf, and do you feel like some of the upcoming American stars are starting to overshadow you?
PAULA CREAMER: Well, I think that women's golf is getting more and more opportunities, and I believe that the younger players are getting opportunities to play in events, sponsor invites, or just playing their way through in qualifiers, and they are getting a taste of it; everybody is working hard for it.

I truly believe that it's going to be this way for a while. I see a lot of juniors where I train, and they just put a lot of time in and practise and hopefully they do the same with school, as well, because that's just as important.

Q. You were considered young when you turned pro, but now you must look at them, and think, I wasn't really young at all.
PAULA CREAMER: I was 18 and it was kind of unheard of, people not going to college at that time. I think before me it was Cristie Kerr, who didn't go to school, and it was kind of a big deal.

Now I'm 25 and I'm considered old and a veteran. It's interesting, that's how sports -- what it's all about. It's the young, the new ones and you just have to keep up. If not, I can only control myself. I can't control anybody else. This is my eighth year, and time flies.

Q. It's a big sea change in what's going on, isn't it, suddenly kids at 14 can beat these adults.
PAULA CREAMER: It is. We always like to say, it's just a number. But in reality, there's a lot of things that happened with younger players. I think there's a no fear factor involved. There's no expectations and you can just go out and play the best you can.

The rookie years are always interesting to see; these young players have so much talent, like Jessica Korda, a great amateur player, and took herself a year to get used to being out on Tour. It's a different life when you have to play week-in and week-out and I think it's kind of a realisation of what is going on, playing against the best players in the world. But that's golf and what you have to deal with.

Q. Can you just talk about the quality of the course you're playing this week?
PAULA CREAMER: I think Tanah Merah is a fantastic golf course. I believe the greens are running a little bit slower than they have in the past. It's not too wet out there but it's definitely not firm and fast.
It's a shot-maker's golf course. You have to hit it on the right parts of greens, and it comes down to reading the grains and the breaks on these putts, because that's where all of this golf course is, around the greens. Tee-to-green is pretty straightforward. It's just who is going to make the most birdies and the least mistakes.

Q. You mentioned earlier that as one of the veterans, you find yourself having to keep up with some of the younger players. Do you feel added pressure when you come up against some of them?
PAULA CREAMER: I don't necessarily feel I have to keep up with younger players. I feel that I can take care of my own self out on the golf course.

I put the most pressure on myself, I'm the one that's out there wanting to be out there and be the best player that I can be. Nobody else can do that. That's all inner motivation and self-motivation, and that's what I like. I have my goals and I want to achieve it, and then, you know, if somebody plays better, then I have to work harder.

Right now, the person that I think if there is somebody, it's Yani. She's a fantastic golfer and not only that, she's a good person but she's the No. 1 player in the world. That's the people that I look at, people that are better.

Topics: HSBC Women's Champions, Tseng, Yani, Miyazato, Ai, Webb, Karrie, Creamer, Paula, Notes and Interviews [+]

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