Both Rory McIlroy and Yani Tseng are feeling the pressure of carrying around the weight of being ranked No. 1 in the world.
McIlroy has struggled in the beginning of 2013 with a missed cut in Abu Dhabi, and he was knocked out in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play. He was so frustrated with his game that he walked off during the second round of the Honda Championship, where he was the defending champion.
At the beginning of 2012, Yani Tseng had a commanding lead at the top of the Rolex Rankings.
Tseng, who just turned 24 years old in January, was recently quoted on Golf Channel's Morning Drive as saying that she is not having any fun on the golf course and the pressure of being No. 1 has definitely affected her performance.
She won five major titles in just four years and became the youngest player ever, man or woman, to win five major championships.
After no major wins, three missed cuts and poor performances from May through September last year, she now has Na Yeon Choi, Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park set to overtake her for the top spot.
McIlroy took an extended offseason rest, stating that he was fatigued from the number of events played at the end of 2012. From August to October, he won his second major title, the PGA Championship, two events in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and helped the European Ryder Cup team defeat the USA at Medinah.
He also won the 2012 money titles on the PGA and European Tours, as well as the PGA Tour’s Vardon Trophy. He won over $8 million on the PGA Tour and another $4.6 million on the European Tour last year.
I would be tired too from carrying that much money around in my wallet.
McIlroy, who is 23 years old, signed a $100 million contract to switch from his longtime sponsor Titleist to Nike. He switched all 14 clubs, ball and wardrobe for the Nike Swoosh.
Starting the 2013 season with new equipment and the pressure of performing for a new sponsor may also have something to do with McIlroy’s overall record thus far this year.
Tseng has held the No. 1 ranking for 108 weeks and has a big target on her back for every other female golfer trying to reach the pinnacle of women’s golf.
I had the opportunity to speak with her last summer after she had just missed her third cut over her last four events at the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic.
She admitted that it was much more enjoyable for her when she was striving to reach the No. 1 ranking than actually being No. 1.
“When you are trying to be the best you are only trying to beat the golfer ahead of you until finally there is no one left to beat,” Tseng commented.
She continued, “Once you have become No. 1 everyone else is trying to beat you, and golf fans expect you to win or be in contention every week.”
High expectations and being in contention every week, whether on the PGA Tour or the LPGA, are very difficult goals to achieve. The best players in the world are continuously nipping at your heels.
Fans, sponsors and media all expect the best from the top players in the world every time they step onto a golf course.
Tseng had a tough year in 2012. She did have three wins and eight top-10 finishes in her first eight events in 2012, but she did not have another top-10 finish in her next 11 events.
She finished the year strong with three top-10 finishes in her last five events of 2012 and earned over $1.4 million, finishing fourth on the 2012 LPGA Tour’s money list.
Those don’t sound like bad numbers except for the fact that the LPGA Tour’s Player of the Year, Stacy Lewis, and 2012 U.S. Women’s Open champion, Na Yeon Choi, rapidly closed the gap on the No. 1 spot.
Both McIlroy and Tseng achieved the No. 1 rankings at very young ages. McIlroy showed his youth and inexperience by walking off the golf course during the second round at the Honda Classic, a tournament where he was the defending champion.
McIlroy is normally calm and carefree on the golf course. But the pressure of missed cuts and poor performances for two months had built to the explosion level.
After a slice into the water on the 18th hole at PGA National, he had enough. He didn’t even finish the hole. He just walked to the parking lot, got in his car and left the property.
Definitely not Rory-like and definitely not conduct befitting the No. 1 ranked player in the world.
Tseng still seems to be a little awed by the idea that she has succeeded far beyond her wildest expectations at such a young age. She needs to refocus her goals.
Both players need to use their recent failures as motivation to get back to work and regain the world-class form that made them No. 1 in the first place.
Top athletes need to embrace the challenge of reaching the apex of their sport and then work even harder to maintain the lofty status once they achieve it.
McIlroy and Tseng had worked so hard as teenagers that they were ready to bask in the sunshine of their accomplishments and slow down.
Athletes cannot afford to take a recess. Prime years for peak performance are fleeting for any athletic endeavor. It is no different for a golfer.
Both McIlroy and Tseng are young enough that they will get back to form and regain their superb golf games.
Right now, though, high expectations and the pressure to perform every time out are weighing on these young talents and affecting their scores.