China's great hope Shanshan sets sights on winning

By Tim Maitland


A year ago Feng Shanshan was a surprise member of the LPGA's rookie class beginning a run of nine missed cuts in 10 events that suggested the then-18 year old may have taken the step up to the world's premier women's golf tour a fraction too early.

A year later she's started her sophomore season focusing on her first victory.

A sign of how enormously her career changed in the space of just a few months was the unusual announcement made by HSBC this week that, had she not qualified through her final position on the 2008 LPGA Money List, the world's local bank would almost certainly have saved one of its sponsor's invites to the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore next month for the 19-year-old from Guangzhou.

"It's not our usual business practice to discuss contingency plans or to make public our behind-the-scenes discussions but we made that statement to show how much we respect what Shanshan has done for women's golf in China and for the girl's currently developing their game as part of the HSBC China Junior Golf Program," explained Giles Morgan, HSBC Group Head of Sponsorship.

What changed? Well, having cashed just four meagre cheques from finishing weekend play nearer the back of the field than the front, Feng, more commonly known as Jenny to her fellow players, suddenly exploded onto the scene last July.

She finished fourth at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic and the LPGA State Farm Classic in successive weeks, was runner-up one shot behind Angela Stanford at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic, finishing the season with five top 10 finishes in 36th place on the official money list.

"At the beginning of last year everyone was thinking "Oh Jenny's just struggling". You know I missed ten cuts in 11 tournaments (including the 2007 US Open) and everyone was thinking "Oh… she's not doing well and she's not going to come back"… but I didn't worry about it too much because I knew I still had time," Feng explained before explaining how her target has now shifted dramatically from just trying to survive the full four rounds.

"My next goal is to win a tournament. Once I win a tournament than I'll change to another goal. I like to go step by step. I like to work towards smaller goals, not to make one that is far away. I haven't won as a pro, yet, but I'm sure I will later, because I'm only 19. I know I still have many chances. I have a long time to go, as a professional, so I'm not worried about what I'm doing now."

What Shanshan is doing now is breathing life into the girls trying to follow in her footsteps. Previously inspired by Zhang Na's multiple-win 2007 season on the Japan LPGA Tour, having a fellow teenager make what had until then seemed to be the huge step up to becoming a contender on the LPGA.

"Money can't buy what she has done for the girls playing in the HSBC National Junior Championship events in China," declared Morgan.

"There's an added belief and an extra enthusiasm because Shanshan has proved that what the girls dreamed about is actually possible; not only is it possible, it's not necessarily 10 years away. They now know that a Chinese teenager can succeed as a professional."

The Shanshan-effect will increase exponentially if and when the nine-time winner in China as an amateur achieves her next goal. Although judging from the confidence within her camp, the "if" is not necessary.

"Eventually she will win," declared Jay Chang Jong-Whan, the Korean CEO of Feng's management company HSMG.

"I don't know when it will be, but she's getting closer and closer."

Feng's American caddie Steve Shellard is even more emphatic when posed the question.

"Definitely!" he declared.

"She's got an unbelievably great swing. I think she's got the best swing of anybody I've ever seen. Of all the guys and girls I think she's got an awesome swing - Gary Gilchrist has been working with her - she's got it. She's got the shots. What a great short game too! She's got some great wedge shots. I call her Phil Mickelson. I say "come on Phil you can make this". She can hit some unbelievable wedge shots. Technically it's all there. One of the best things I've seen is her distance control. If I ask her to hit it 148 yards it's not going 153. It's going 148, maybe 148 and a half. It's right on. Then it's just a matter of whether you're hitting it straight. She hits her shots to the distance she wants to hit them. That's her best attribute. She hits it to the distance."

Shellard is not just being nice. Having "looped" for the unknown Chinese girl for the first two events of her pro career in Hawaii last year, Shellard, who caddied on the men's PGA Tour throughout the 1980s, barely recognised the more relaxed and happy-go-lucky player he rejoined, initially reluctantly, at the start of that great run last July.

"She matured and learned what to do and how to act out here on tour. She learned what she needed to do for routines and how to practice. She figured her way around," said Shellard of the girl who has become as popular as any player on the circuit.

"When she first came out she was not as loose. Now if she hits a bad shot she forgets about it, laughs maybe; not that she isn't taking it seriously, but we just go shot by shot. Where's the ball now? OK, let's go. She's done a 180 (degree turn) since I've known her. When we started working together again she was like a whole new girl."

That girl was seemingly born to golf, thanks to her father the General Secretary of the Guangzhou Golf Association in the heart of Guangdong province - the heart of golf in China.

Discouraged from swimming by a sinking backstroke and then from tennis by a lack of mobility, she found golf as a 10-year old when her father began creating a Guangzhou junior team.

She went on to be a three-time China Amateur Champion, competed in the 2006 Asian Games where she finished eighth (Korea's Ryu So-yeon won gold, 2009 LPGA Rookie Mika Miyazato won silver and current world number two Yani Tseng came fourth), moved to the States to attend the International Junior Golf Academy in South Carolina, winning four times on the International Junior Golf Tour in 2006-2007 before she became the first Chinese player to earn an LPGA Tour card.

That she will inevitably become the first Chinese winner on the LPGA is, in her caddie's mind, a given; not for any technical or talent-related reason, simply because she thrives in the spotlight.

"I think she enjoys the pressure of the cameras on her and the crowd around her," Shellard explained.

"She's not gun-shy at all. She's not afraid of the crowd. She enjoys it!"


Jenny Feng Shanshan quotes

B August 5th, 1989 Guangzhou

My Mum is a librarian and my father works for the Guangzhou Golf Association - General Secretary - there's a junior team and he's the captain

When I was young I tried different sports. I tried swimming first, but you know when I was learning backstroke I found my head went straight down into the water, so I needed the coach to have a stick and I'd grab the stick and he'd pull me up. Then I switched to tennis for two years maybe. I couldn't run too far, so I found that tennis was not a good choice for me.

Around 1999 my father started the junior team with the golf association and he wanted me to try. The coach saw me and said yes she's ok. She has talent. I switched to golf because I liked it and I wasn't good at tennis.

There aren't so many good coaches in China and our family is not that rich, so my father used to be my coach. He knew how my swing should be, so he would give me some suggestions.

Our team wanted kid's that had talent but we don't care if they're rich or not. It's less expensive if they join the team and they don't need to give us any money.

Guangzhou I think is the biggest junior team in the country.
The weather in Guangdong is better for golf because we're down south. In the North they have snow in the winter and they can't practice there. Some of the players living in the North will come down to the south in the winter.

When I really joined the amateur national team it was 2006. We were preparing for the Asian Games. We practiced together and went through stages before they finally picked four of us.

I just won the China... four or five times. Juniors a lot. The trophies are a lot in my room. There are too many in the house. I had to put some in my grandmother's house. I've won many times.

Not too much. The year before I was playing junior tournaments in the US. My coach was telling me "you weren't even a top amateur and you're playing the LPGA now!" he told me just to collect experience, just to learn first. After those 11 tournaments I was used to being on the tour and I knew what to do and I wasn't nervous on the course. Everything was relaxed and more enjoyable.

Just getting used to being on the tour. There's a lot of differences from playing on the tour in China. I feel more experienced now and I know I'm doing fine.

Q School:
I didn't think about it too much. When I was trying no-one knew who would qualify. It's one time each year.

On suddenly hitting form in July 08:
It wasn't that sudden. I made the cut in the fourth one, then missed some.
Everything has to go like this (step-by-step)… I had a great third round 64… Things were getting more positive.

I'm not that consistent yet. I didn't make the cut at the British Open and the US Open, but I know I'm going to get more chances. I'm going to play more US Opens and British Opens and I know I'm going to play better. They're not that different, it's mostly the same players. There's a little more pressure.

Being on the tour you have to learn, because everyone's improving. If you don't improve they'll leave you behind. So to stay on the tour you have to keep improving. It's great to be on the tour.

(Spent one and a half years in USA at the IJGA).
We study English at school here (in China), but it's mostly writing. So we know the words and we know the grammar. We just have to get used to talking. We're not good at English in China because we don't have chances to speak.

On the tour there are only a couple who speak Chinese so I had to speak English - I had to try.

Zhang Na was the first one to go outside the country, so she was the first.
I know I'm the first one on the LPGA Tour and everyone who wants to go on the LPGA will focus on me. That's why I want to do well because it will make them more confident.

I'm just waiting for them. I'm waiting for the second one and the third one. I want more Chinese players to get on the LPGA Tour.

I used to go to school and then practice. Now it's only golf. It's practice and then tournaments, practice and then tournaments.

We're girls we like shopping and we like Karaoke. Girls like chatting. I've made a lot of friends on the LPGA. Because I'm younger than them they always treat me well.


Steve Shellard
Boston, SE Massachusetts
Caddied on PGA Tour in 70s and 80s.

On Feng's great second half to the year:
It turned around when we got back together. Her agent had been onto me for a few weeks in a row.

Jenny matured over those couple of months. She matured and learned what to do and how to act out here on tour. She learned what she needed to do for routines and how to practice. She figured her way around.

All the travel is new and she's young, half a world away from her home and I suppose she needed to get that figured out and I think she did.

When she first came out she was not as loose. Now if she hits a bad shot she forgets about it, laughs maybe - not that she isn't taking it seriously - but we just go shot by shot. Where's the ball now? OK, let's go. She's done a 180 since I've known her. When we started working together again she was like a whole new girl.

We got back together and we finished fourth two weeks in a row. She shot 29 on the back nine on the Sunday in the wind in Springfield to climb from maybe 30 or 40th into 4th place, at a time when everyone else was backing it up.

Having a couple of finishes like that takes a lot of pressure off her, and a little off me. It must have taken a lot of weight off her shoulders.

We were one shot out of the lead in Mobile, with a chance to get into a play-off.

It was great. I didn't sense she felt any pressure at all. She was cool and calm, just like any other round. It was shot-by-shot, doing the exact same things. She didn't hit it any further or seemed tight at all; she didn't do anything different. I think she enjoys the pressure of the cameras on her and the crowd around her. She's not gun-shy at all. She's not afraid of the crowd. She enjoys it.

Do you get the feeling that she's someone who knows what it takes to win?
I think she does. What it takes to win is to get yourself into contention. One of the things I said to her was let's get off to a good start so we don't have to worry about making cuts; get out there, get on the leaderboard and try to hang in there.

She really doesn't make any crazy mistakes. We made on big number at the British Open, but she's not making any drastic mistakes out there.

Is there any reason for that?
Good course management, I think. We're talking about the shot. In the practice rounds we're working hard. I think we're working well together; working well as against someone fighting you out there. We're both working at the same time. We're working towards the same goal. My goal is to help her win. We get along very well now. I don't think we did the first two weeks of her (LPGA) career. We were butting heads a little bit.

Will she win?
Definitely! We've been in contention missing by a shot. She shot five under through seven holes in Prattville and she didn't make another birdie until the 18th. That whole back nine we were on the leaderboard, but we just weren't making anything. That's where we had our best chance to win. We had it around the hole all day but it just wouldn't go in.

Q: For someone so young she seems quite balanced
I looked at her at the start of last year and I didn't see that balance. She was half way around the world, young, just was 18 when she came out. If I say very mature, she has her tendencies to be a 19-year-old, but she's cute. Everyone likes her and she's friendly and she doesn't have a bad word to say about anybody.

She's got an unbelievably great swing. I think she's got the best swing of anybody I've ever seen. Of all the guys and girls I think she's got an awesome swing - Gary Gilchrist has been working with her - she's got it. She's got the shots.
What a great short game too. She's got some great wedge shots. I call her Phil Mickelson. I say "come on Phil you can make this". She can hit some unbelievable wedge shots.

Q: Technically you think it's all there?
Technically it's all there. She's got a great swing. One of the best things I've seen is her distance control. If I ask her to hit it 148 yards it's not going 153. It's going 148, maybe 148 and a half. It's right on. Then it's just a matter of whether you're hitting it straight. She hits her shots to the distance she wants to hit them. That's her best attribute. She hits it to the distance.

Jay Chang Jong-Whan
CEO HS Management Group

Q: How did you find her?
She was part of the national team in China and they had training in America and Cate Guo (HSMG Vice-President and Feng's manager) and I accompanied the national team together. She was 16 at that time and she had the right frame of mind to be successful.

We were looking for players to help them pursue their goals. Of course it has to be financially stable and they have the right support group around them, but we were looking for some talent.

She was young enough, she was stubborn enough, she was passionate enough to be successful so I arranged for her to study in America, in South Carolina, the International Junior Golf Academy. She got a full scholarship there. She trained under Gary Gilchrist, who used to be Michelle Wie's coach. Now he has his own academy in Orlando.

Q: Is it fair to say she's surprised everyone by getting through the LPGA's Q School and by doing so well as a rookie?
Sure. She's a raw talent. She peaks at the right time. That's a blessing. A lot of players have talent and work hard, but for some reason don't peak when they have to peak. At important tournaments, on big occasions she is like a big occasion girl. That includes the LPGA Q school.

Q: What was your reaction when she made it through Q School?
Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised. I was already thinking what the next step for her was.

Q: In the first half of last year it looked like it was too soon for her?
Right. Right after Q school I started working on her sponsorship. And a Korean company called Kolon and a golf apparel brand called Elord sponsored her and support her very much. We had a good team to support her and when she was down, when she wasn't making cuts we were patient because we knew she was going to get better.

Q: If you look at her results it looks like one day it clicked?
It wasn't all of a sudden, it was gradually. She was missing cuts by five shots, four shots, three, shots, two shots, one shot; she knew she was getting better. Once she made a cut, she started to get in the top 10, then at the Jamie Farr she needed to make the top five to get into the British Open and she made it.

She's a quick learner and very smart.

She played many junior amateur tournaments in the USA. She learned English, she went to school at the same time. She learned English in the classroom and learned how to make friends.

Q: She's been so close to winning… one of the caddies just told me for sure she will win. Do you agree?
Eventually she will win. I don't know when it will be, but she's getting closer and closer. She knows that a lot of players are ahead of her.

Q: On Kolon's sponsorship of Shanshan:
It was the first time a foreign company came to China and got permission to sponsor one of the national players. It was a very delicate process.

Topics: Player Feature, Feng, Shanshan, HSBC Women's Champions

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