Not only does collegiate golf provide players with opportunities to get better, but it also creates lifelong friendships, unbreakable bonds rooted in the shared grind of early morning workout sessions and grueling 36-hole tournament days. But your teammates also push you to improve and for Jessica Peng (Taoyuan, Chinese Taipei), fellow Mississippi State Bulldog and LPGA Tour professional Ally Ewing is that source of inspiration.
“I would say she's the one that keeps me very competitive because she's always on top,” said Peng. “I watch her every year [at Taiwan Swinging Skirts] when she plays. Sometimes I think I hit a good shot and she hits it even closer. Or I made a birdie and she made a birdie too, or maybe even an eagle. It's just like her status-wise, everything, she's just better. I want to beat her so bad. I’ll say that out loud. Ally, I want to beat you so bad.”
Peng is an accomplished player in her own right, competing primarily on the China LPGA and Taiwan LPGA Tours. She carded a second-place finish at the CTBC Invitational on the TLPGA last month and back in 2018, Peng played on the Korean LPGA Tour, appearing on the reality television show Cinderella Story of KLPGA. With the COVID-19 pandemic halting international travel in 2020, the soon-to-be 28-year-old didn’t travel to the United States until early July 2021 and stayed with friends in Irvine, Calif. to practice ahead of LPGA Qualifying Tournament Stage I.
“I’ve been playing [full-time] on the CLPGA and TLPGA, and I was on one of the reality shows, so I got to play about 10 events in KLPGA in 2018,” Peng said of her competitive schedule. “It was COVID so I was in Taiwan last year. I just decided I have to come out and play. I was at a friend's house, practiced there for about three weeks and then I got an Airbnb in Palm Springs and stayed there for a whole month because of my visa. I can't stay longer than 90 days, so I had to fly home after Stage I and do a 14-day quarantine and get a flight here again. After I flew back here, the first five days I was just laying in bed. I didn’t want to do anything.”
Her golf game hasn’t shown any sign of that malaise with the Chinese Taipei native carding scores of 70-71-67 through three rounds. Peng’s Saturday play was highlighted by a hole-out eagle on the third of the Panther Course, a shot that she was begging to not hit the pin.
“The distance was between clubs, but I’d rather stay short than go way over and have a downhill putt, especially with the greens kind of fast today,” Peng said. “Somehow, I actually just carried the pin like dead straight. I saw the ball was towards the pin and I was like, ‘Please don't hit the pin.’ Usually when I hit the pin, it goes off the green. That was the only thing I was hoping, please don't hit the pin. I think it [landed] like two yards behind the pin and I was like, ‘Okay, that wasn't bad.’ People were just like, ‘Whoa you made it.’ I was like, ‘Wait, did I hit it short or hit it past?’ I wasn't really sure about it. And it just went in. I was like, ‘Wait, whoa, what just happened?’ Didn't expect it at all.”
As Peng sets her sights on Sunday at Plantation Golf & Country Club, she looks to keep her nerves in check, a common sentiment from all competitors this week. She is also grateful that her time in Venice has been a lot less nerve-wracking than Stage I.
“I just want to finish in the top 45 and get over this week,” she said. “Obviously, like Stage I, I was stressed out. Probably the most stressful week I ever had. This week actually isn’t as bad, I think because there are more people that I know around. It helps a little bit. I think I’ve had a pretty good week, so just go with the flow, finish top 45, then I'm good. My mindset has been about staying calm and playing one shot at a time, keep my mind off the result and do what I need to at the time instead of overthinking.”