PITTSFORD, N.Y. – It’s hard to say what will come of Shanshan Feng’s victory at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. For all we know, decades from now this tour might be based in China. Crazier things have happened.
Feng became the first player from mainland China to win a major championship – male or female. It’s hard not to think back to Blackwolf Run in 1998, when Se Ri Pak won the U.S. Women’s Open and kick-started a golf revolution in South Korea. China, a nation of 1.3 billion people, has endless potential.
“All the Asians are good at controlling small things,” Feng said. “I would say if Koreans can, Chinese can.”
On a day when golf’s biggest names were jockeying for position at a soggy Locust Hill Country Club, Feng went out and posted a number that no one matched all week: 5-under 67. Feng, 22, won by two strokes over Mika Miyazato, Stacy Lewis, Eun-Hee Ji and Suzann Pettersen. She didn’t look at a leaderboard until the 18th green.
“I think it’s really going to help golf in China because now we know Chinese can be winning all over the world,” said Feng, who became the first player from China to win on the Ladies European Tour in March. She’s a three-time winner on the Japan LPGA.
While golf is unattainable to the vast majority of Chinese, the world is well aware of what happens when the Chinese government puts resources behind an Olympic sport. The Chinese already has been gunning for the 2016 Olympics, but Feng’s victory could shift the nation’s efforts into overdrive.
Feng’s card on Sunday was flawless, with five birdies and and no bogeys. She hit 16 greens and 11 fairways to stave off a host of major winners. Feng became the seventh player to record her first LPGA victory at the LPGA Championship. She will move from No. 10 to No. 5 in the Rolex Rankings.
“It definitely didn’t get any easier out there,” said Lewis, who hit only one fairway on the front nine and watched her chances slip away with bogeys on Nos. 10 and 11.
Pettersen found herself tied with Feng at 5 under through 12 holes, but back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 13 and 14 derailed her chances. She hasn’t won a major since the 2007 LPGA Championship.
Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr paired together to give Rochester fans an extra dose of American stardom. Unfortunately, there were few fireworks in the group.
Kerr birdied two of the last three holes to finish 1 under for the tournament, and joked that because no one in the media wanted to talk to her, she was off to get a cocktail.
Creamer said her round was stalled by a bogey at the par-3 ninth. She had her chances, but left Rochester pleased with her attitude and her ball-striking. She’ll head to a difficult Blackwolf Run course in three weeks among the favorites. (Remember, she won at Oakmont in 2010.)
“I am hitting the ball so much better,” Creamer said. “I haven’t really had that kind of feeling for a while, and it’s nice now that it’s back.”
Feng, a three-time China Amateur champion, got the nickname “Jenny” from her English teacher in China.
“I look like a Jenny, right?” she asked with a laugh.
Feng’s father is general secretary of the Guangzhou Golf Association, and her mother works at a public library. They watch their only child play in Japan. The only time they have been on the LPGA this year was the tour stop on Oahu, Hawaii.
Growing up, Feng went to the driving range to hit a couple of hundred balls after school at 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. On weekends, she tried to play 18 holes. The resources she had available made her a stout ball-striker but weak around the greens.
In 2007, Feng came to America on her own and began working with Gary Gilchrist, Yani Tseng’s instructor. She went to LPGA Q-School later that year and won her card. Now, in her fifth year on the LPGA, Feng set two goals for the year: win a tournament and finish top-10 in a major. She accomplished both in one week.
“I became the first one,” Feng said, of her historic win for China.
It’s certain she won’t be the last.