New champion Feng looked to friend Tseng for example of success
Shanshan Feng could have done a lot worse choosing a player to learn from than Yani Tseng.
Now a newly crowned major champion and third-ranked player in the world, Feng wasn’t always a model of consistency and a threat to win each week. Like many young players, she struggled after joining the Tour in 2008 – the same year as Tseng – and missed her share of cuts.
Tseng, on the other hand, took the Tour by storm, earning the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award and banking more than $1 million in the process. There watching and taking notes was her good friend Feng.
“We qualified at the same time in 2007, and I was having a very tough first half of the year in 2008,” Feng said. “Yani started to do well from the first tournament, and if I missed the cut, I would always go and watch her play. I was trying to figure out what the difference was between our play and tried to learn from her.”
Feng was just happy to be a member of the Tour in 2008, as her top-10 finish at the 2007 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament came as a bit of a surprise.
“In 2007, when I went to q-school in September, I had only been in the States since March and I had just been playing in junior tournaments in the States,” Feng said. “I never thought I’d qualify, because usually people have to go from junior tournaments to amateur tournaments to the pros. I went from junior tournaments straight to the LPGA. So, I think I was just lucky that I was playing very, very well and qualified, but I knew I wasn’t good enough (to win).”
Other players were welcoming to Feng and her fellow rookies, a fact that helped her relax and thrive in her first year.
“People like Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb were so nice, and they didn’t think I was (just) a rookie and look down at me,” Feng said. “It made me very comfortable to be on the Tour. We see each other more than we do our families, so we are like a family.”
Patience and her studying of Tseng’s approach to the game paid off for Feng, who notched four top-10 finishes during her rookie season. It was a rewarding turn of events for the young Chinese player.
“That first half year, I was improving and learning and finally made a top 10,” said Feng, who has 17 career top-10s. “Then I knew I was good enough to be on Tour.”
After a solid, but unremarkable 2009, Feng found more success in 2010 and 2011, recording eight top-10 finishes and contending for a few titles along the way. Being in contention also served as a good lesson for what Feng needed to break through.
“I had three second places before I won, and I got very close,” said Feng, who has earned nearly $2 million in her career. “Every time I got close, I just needed that one more step. I think mentally I maybe wasn’t strong enough at the time, so I just needed a little more every time. I learned a lot from the past four years on the Tour.”
Then, on June 10, after a number of near-misses and four more top-10s in 2012, Feng’s breakthrough finally came. She earned a two-stroke victory at the Wegmans LPGA Championship to not only become a first-time winner and the first player on Tour from China to win an LPGA event, but to also earn the title of major champion.
While fighting for that title, Feng admits she thought of the lessons she’s learned from the two-time player of the year who leads this year’s money list.
“She is one of my best friends, and I’ve seen her win so many times,” Feng said of Tseng. “So, when I was leading, I was thinking about what Yani did when she was leading, and that helped a lot.”
Feng followed her win with another top-10 finish, which moved her to third in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Even though Feng is not obsessing about her world ranking the way she did before, she is once again looking up to her good friend Tseng.
“I’m going to try and catch (Yani), but I know it will take a little time,” said Feng, who is fifth on the 2012 LPGA money list. “She is everybody’s goal right now. Since I’m her friend, I can’t be too far behind her.”