BEDMINSTER, N.J. – Make no mistake about it, the USGA likes to get inside your head, root around a bit and see what you’re made of. The U.S. Women’s Open tests not only shot-making ability but also mental resiliency. As golf goes, it’s somewhere between a whoopee cushion and a hand buzzer – both surprising and shocking.
And it’s not for the faint of heart. But in Shanshan Feng, the USGA may have met its match. On her list of priorities, golf tussles with sleeping, shopping, playing video games and donning her Holstein cow outfit. She’s as unshakable as the Great Wall of China and that stability serves you well in this tournament.
“I would say yeah, I mean I'm a person that, you know, I like to be happy all the time,” Feng, 27, said Thursday after a six-under-par 66 gave her the first round lead at Trump National. “Golf is just part of our lives. It's not everything,” she said after the lowest of her 33 rounds in the U.S. Women’s Open and the first time she broke 70.
That’s not a bad attitude to have at a U.S. Women’s Open where the rough is up, the greens are fast and players get curveballs thrown at them, like a tee box on Sunday they haven’t seen all week. On Thursday, that difficulty was amped up by a heat index that neared 100 degrees.
Feng, a 10-year LPGA veteran from China with seven tour wins, including the 2012 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, holds the first-round lead by one stroke over Amy Yang, whose name appears on the leaderboard at majors as reliably as the swallows return to Capistrano.
Two-back at 68 are Lydia Ko and So Yeon Ryu. Among those at 69 are Cristie Kerr, who won the U.S. Women’s Open 10 years ago, and 17-year-old amateur Hye-Jin Choi. And in a clump at two-under par 70 are Brooke Henderson, In Gee Chun and Suzann Pettersen. Michelle Wie shot 73 along with Danielle Kang.
Those who teed off early were fortunate. There was a storm delay at 4:29 p.m. with play resuming on a soggy course at 6:34 p.m. amid occasional showers. Play was stopped for the day at 8:33 p.m. with the last group having six holes to finish Friday morning. Carlota Ciganda was four-under par though 17.
Rachel Heck, a 15-year-old amateur from Memphis, was three-under after 13 holes along with Nelly Korda. Gaby Lopez got to four-under par but fell to two under after the rain delay, one bogey coming when her ball plugged in the side of a wet bunker after the rain delay.
“I started the round really solidly,” Feng said. “I had three birdies in the first four holes. After that I felt comfortable about everything.” That was certainly true. She turned in 31 as she played the back nine first. Then, after a birdie on No. 1, she fought the heat to draw down the stretch, ending with eight consecutive pars.
Yang also shot 31 on the back nine, but she played it second after an even-par 36 on the front side. “Putting,” she said simply when asked the key to her 67. Amy has 16 top-10s in the majors without a victory and in the last five years, she’s been second twice, T-3 and fourth in the Women’s Open.
“You know, I thought about it,” she said when asked why she plays so well in this event. “I think maybe because [the] U.S. Open is one of my favorite tournaments and enjoy being here. I do like little more difficult condition golf course. Makes you more focused out there and, yeah, I think that helps.”
The fun-loving Feng enjoyed the pairing of the three Olympic medal winners. Shanshan, who won the bronze in Rio last year, played with gold medalist Inbee Park and Ko, who captured the silver. “I was just enjoying it so much on the course and I think that really helped my performance, too,” she said.
While many players relax the week before a major, Feng went back to China to fulfill a business obligation, but there is no way she’d ever use flying halfway around the world as an excuse. “I should be able to perform well in any condition because I'm a professional,” she said. “I don't take that as an excuse if I don't play well this week.”
Then she shifted into full Shanshan mode, which had everyone in the media center laughing, not an unusual occurrence when Shanshan is at the podium.
“I would say I love America,” she said. “I mean I love American food. I love steak, maybe Buffalo wings. I'm more about meat. I think America is great. I think that's maybe one of the reasons why that I've been doing well, because I love the food and I can sleep well and I forget bad things quickly so that's good.”
A short memory is a good thing in golf, especially in a U.S. Women’s Open where bad things happen with shocking suddenness. Apparently, having an offbeat fashion sense doesn’t hurt either. Asked if she plays better in cow clothes, Feng said:
“The cow outfit has become one of my signature so when I'm wearing the cow pants, people recognize me more. I think that's good to bring out your personality. And also tell people like what's the difference between you and the other players. So maybe that makes me feel more excited [and] maybe play better.”
Right now, the difference between Feng and the other 155 players is that she’s at the top of the leader board. And that’s a fun way for her to start the U.S. Women’s Open.