Notes: Feng ends slump at AJGA Girls

AJGA Girls Championship (Final)

More than two years have passed since Simin Feng last claimed an AJGA victory. In junior golf terms, that’s like a lifetime, but with a two-shot victory Monday at the AJGA Girls Championship, Feng seems to have crossed the threshold of a slump for good.

A 17-year-old who hit the big time when she won the 2009 AJGA Annika Invitational as a 13-year-old, Feng now feels consistently confident over a swing that has been shaky for the better part of two years. When was the last time she felt like that?

“Consistently?” she asks. “Oh man.”

Then there’s a pause.

“I don’t think I ever had that feeling. Maybe before I started to play bad.”

Trace that slump back to a swing change Feng made in 2010. It started an uncharacteristic stretch of mediocre golf for Feng as she struggled to control the ball and her head while on the course.

Feng, who splits her time between between her native Beijing and Orlando, Fla., capped a 54-hole week on Monday at Furman Golf Club in Greenville, S.C., with a final-round 6-under 66. At the end of the day, Feng was afraid to look at the scoreboard. Good friend and fellow competitor Shannon Aubert (who withdrew after the first round) asked for her score at the end of the day, then told her she won. It’s Feng’s fifth career AJGA title, and her first since the AJGA Exide Technologies Junior in April 2010.

“At first I didn’t know if I could win or not,” Feng said. “At first I was really nervous.”

But what’s funny, and what’s different about this week from many of the tournaments Feng entered during the past two years, is that she wasn’t nervous down the stretch. That’s the thing about a rough patch – you can come out a better player.

On Monday, Feng got to 6 under with an eagle at No. 13. She bogeyed No. 15, but regrouped with a birdie at 16 to finish with 66. She admitted that there were a few moments when her mind jumped ahead to the possibility of shooting 6 under. She was able to clear that thought just as quickly and continue to focus on one hole at a time. By the end of the day, she had hit 16 greens, a stat that would had been unheard of for Feng a year ago.

“This whole round really helped me to boost my confidence,” she said. “My ballstriking, my putting was just doing its job. I really had a chance to go lower than 6 under today.”

Feng’s AJGA Girls victory comes off an even bigger confidence boost that occurred two weeks ago. Feng, a member of the Chinese National Team, took advantage of the automatic starts she is afforded in Chinese LPGA events courtesy of her status as a team member. In her first CLPGA tournament this season, the Wuhan Orient Masters Challenge, Feng won by six strokes and became the first amateur to win on the CLPGA. She’s also the youngest winner on that tour.

As good as it felt to be on top that week, it felt even better to do it at home.

Feng plays and practices out of Grand Cypress Golf Club, and began working with David Leadbetter a year ago. One of her goals is to get to know her own swing better. She’s already longer through the bag, with her driver averaging an accurate 255 yards.

Feng also is academically minded, which is why she has her mind set on attending Vanderbilt in the fall of 2013. She hasn’t verbally committed yet, but she’s equally impressed by head coach Greg Allen and Vanderbilt’s academic reputation. Thoughts on a major range from Economics to Art.

Right now, however, she’s just focusing on turning in her homework on time because, as she explains, those are the easy points.

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FUTURE TIGERS REPRESENT: Clemson was represented well at the AJGA Girls Championship. Ashlan Ramsay, who’s committed to the Tigers for the Class of 2013, finished runner-up, two shots back of Feng at 4-under 212. Lauren Stephenson, who’s committed for the Class of 2015, was third at 3-under 213. She closed with a final-round, 7-under 65.

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SHORT SHOTS: Shannon Aubert, who finished fifth, second and T-3 in three prior AJGA Girls Championship appearances, withdrew after an opening round 14-over 86. . . . Katelyn Dambaugh finished T-4 with Rinko Mitsunaga at 2-under 214. Dambaugh of Goose Creek, S.C. is committed to South Carolina for the Class of 2013. Mitsunaga is from Roswell, Ga., meaning four of the top five spots went to Georgia and South Carolina residents. . . . Bethany Wu led after two rounds, but a final-round, 4-over 76 dropped her back to sixth at even-par 216.

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