ORMOND BEACH, Fla. – Yueer “Cindy” Feng is one of those players who seemingly has been around forever, yet is only 16. Early success tends to prematurely age players.
Feng birdied four consecutive holes (Nos. 10-13) Jan. 9 at Oceanside Country Club to open the South Atlantic Amateur with a 5-under 67 on a mild, overcast day on Florida’s east coast. The Chinese teen is tied for the lead with Princeton junior Kelly Shon in the second event of the annual Florida Orange Blossom Circuit.
After the round, Feng’s father, Delin, handed her a small container of oatmeal. There would be no burger and fries at Oceanside’s Babe Zaharias Cafe for this pair. Serious golf calls for serious food.
It’s difficult to say what will come of Feng, whose petite father is very much involved in her every step. When Cindy was asked what she thought of fellow countrywoman Shanshan Feng becoming the first Chinese player to win a major, last summer at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, her father, standing nearby, simply repeated Tiger’s name over and over, as if to say that Woods is always the answer.
At age 5, Feng played two holes with Woods back home in China at a pricey exhibition, and carried around a stuffed tiger. She first picked up a club at age 3 and was practicing by 4 1/2. Tiger Woods and Ernie Els were the only names in golf she knew.
“My dad was this golf addict in China,” said Feng, telling stories of how he played night golf on a lighted 18-hole course. During the day, Delin would take Cindy along to work on her short game.
Feng didn’t speak English when she arrived in Florida at age 9. They moved so that she could take lessons from David Leadbetter. Last winter, Feng switched to Sean Foley, Woods’ swing instructor.
After moving to Orlando, Feng tore through the junior scene, winning six AJGA titles in 2008, most of which were part of the Junior All-Star series. By the end of 2010, she had won four AJGA invitationals and qualified for two U.S. Women’s Opens. She seemed poised to become the next big thing.
Then she got injured.
Her hip, her lower back, her wrist. It was a frustrating cycle of signing up for a tournament, only to pull out with injury. Feng switched instructors (and trainers), hoping to get stronger and stay healthy.
Last year at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, Feng advanced to the quarterfinals, one of her best showings of 2012. She’s no longer a favorite when she enters a field, but her name is known.
Feng said she hasn’t decided yet about going to college, though it’s difficult to imagine a girl who was groomed for the professional tour being given that kind of freedom. Feng turns 17 in February, and odds are great – from this writer’s perspective, at least – that she’ll be at LPGA Q-School later this year.
If Feng were to win this week, it would be her first amateur title. Tiger Woods had a few of those, too.