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Major breakthrough

Photo Credit: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Shanshan Feng of China plays a shot during the final round of the Mizuno Classic at Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club on November 6, 2011 in Shima, Japan.

June 26 2012, Neal Reid

Feng scores big triumph for herself, native country of China

Little did she know, but Shanshan Feng winning the Wegmans LPGA Championship two weeks ago was not only a major stroke for her own career, but for the world of golf in her native China.

As the first player from China to win on the LPGA Tour, Feng made history and inspired a nation in one fell swoop. Her life has been busy since the big win, but when she returns to China following next week’s U.S. Women’s Open, it could morph into a downright tornado of activity.

“I am going back to China after the (U.S. Women’s) Open, so I’ll see if my life in China is going to change,” said Feng, who earned $375,000 for her two-stroke victory on June 10. “I could tell when I was in Canada last week, a lot of people – the spectators and volunteers – all recognized me. They were calling me ‘Jenny,’ because they must have watched my (TV) interview and I told them my English name is Jenny. Almost everyone was calling me ‘Jenny,’ so I’m very happy.”

Feng is unsure how her native country will respond to her major triumph – her first win on the LPGA Tour – but early signs are that her victory will have a serious impact on the growing global power.

“I have heard from a lot of people online and from phone calls, and some parents have said they want their children to train to be professional golfers like me,” said Feng, who has five top-10s in 2012. “I really want to be a good role model for them. We’ll see if it changes. After 2007 to last year, there were no Chinese players going to (try and) qualify at q-school. So, we’ll see if it changes. Hopefully more and more of them will see that Chinese can play all over the world and they should come out and try to qualify.”

Feng’s victory helped the young star accomplish a pair of goals in one day.

“I had two goals this year,” she said. “One was to win an LPGA tournament, and the other was to get a top 10 in a major. So, it all came true at the same time. I was really surprised.”

Dealing with the immense pressure that comes with contending for a major championship was a big hurdle for Feng, who has 17 top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour since turning pro in 2008.

“I was nervous, but I thought I handled the pressure very well,” said Feng, who is third in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. “I tried not to look at the leaderboard during the (last) round, so I never knew I was leading at any time. I just thought everybody else was going to do very well, and I was just focusing on my game shot by shot. On 17, there started to be there started to be a lot of media around me, so I knew I maybe had a chance to win. I was nervous.”

Feng birdied 17 in the final round en route to the win, a victory she attributed to a solid golf game and even-keel mental approach.

“Because it’s a major, everybody was a little more nervous,” she said. “I think what I did very well was I drove (the ball) very well, so I was mainly in the short grass and that (makes it) easier to get it on the green. I had a lot of birdie chances, and even though I missed a few, I still made a lot of birdie putts.

“I stayed very patient. My coach, Gary Gilchrist, was there with us, and we talked about how it was the type of course I could win on. So, I just needed to be patient, and I focused on every shot.”

Feng finished tied for seventh at last week’s Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Canada, pushing her season earnings to $703,066 and her career earnings to nearly $2 million.

“I was very happy to win a major, and I was very happy again last week because I got a top 10 the week after I won the major,” said Feng, who is fifth on the 2012 money list. “That proves that I’m good enough to win tournaments. I’m just very confident right now.”

Being among the top-ranked players in the world is no longer a daunting reality for Feng, who is more relaxed and comfortable as a Tour pro thanks to her success.

“When I was 10th (in the world), I was very nervous and was looking every week at what people ahead of me were doing,” Feng said. “Now, I’m not looking at the rankings and am just focusing on my game. (No matter) what the others do, I just try my best. I’m going to try and catch (World No. 1 and friend Yani Tseng), but I know it will take a little time. She is everybody’s goal right now.”

Riding her building confidence, Feng could be a contender for the top spot in the rankings sometime soon.

“I’m really confident right now about my game, and I know I’m able to have a couple more chances to win this year,” said Feng, who is third in the current Rolex Player of the Year standings. “But I’m not going to give myself a lot of pressure, because I know everyone in China is happy for me and wants me to go higher, but that causes some pressure. Hopefully I can change the pressure into something that will push me to go even higher. I’m just going to try and stay patient and be normal.”

The thing is, her “normal” has been closer to extraordinary lately.

Topics: Player Feature, Feng, Shanshan

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