Shanshan Feng now has won twice this year. Both times she had dinner with Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu early in the week. Feng’s recipe for success is projected to move her to No. 4 in the Rolex Rankings.
“I think from now on every week I’m going to call them and say ‘Hey, can we have dinner together?’ ” said Feng, winner of the CME Group Titleholders and a $700,000 paycheck, the largest in women’s golf.
Here are 5 Things to Know from Sunday’s final round in Naples:
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1. FENG ADJUSTS: With a star-studded American leaderboard that featured the likes of Stacy Lewis, Natalie Gulbis, Michelle Wie, Cristie Kerr and Gerina Piller, Feng wasn’t the sentimental favorite here in south Florida. It was a vast change from her victory last month in China, where 10,000 Beijing fans crowded around to cheer the only Chinese player on tour.
“I didn’t think I was that popular in China,” said Feng, who quickly learned otherwise.
Feng, 24, is among the tour’s most jovial players. She cruised around Tiburon throwing darts at the flagstick like it was a casual afternoon round. The attitude isn’t by accident. It’s more a life philosophy.
“I do think that tour life is not only about tour, it’s also life,” Feng said. “So I do think that I need to enjoy my tour life. I’m always a happy person so it doesn’t really matter how I’m doing. I still want to be happy.”
Feng, who has won two of her last four events, asked instructor Gary Gilchrist to fly to China for the inaugural Reignwood Classic. Within a matter of minutes, he spotted something in her putting stroke. She was standing too far away with the toe of the putter in the air. That adjustment led to a dramatic finish in which Feng eagled the final hole Sunday to edge Stacy Lewis.
In the weeks that followed, however, Feng overcompensated on the greens, and in Naples Gilchrist moved her farther away from the ball and pushed the heel of the putter back down. She missed several birdie opportunities in the middle of the round Sunday but her closing 66 was enough to hold off Gerina Piller, who misread a 7-foot putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff.
“To come out and grind like I did and give myself an opportunity to force a playoff, I’m pretty excited about that,” said Piller. “I’m excited that I’m done for the year.”
Feng moved to fourth on the LPGA money list with $1,716,657.
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2. AMERICAN GLORY: Stacy Lewis knows the importance of every stroke, every fraction of a point. So when LPGA commissioner Mike Whan rounded up Lewis’ scoring average to 69.5, she quickly pointed out that it was actually 69.48, the eighth-lowest scoring average in LPGA history.
Lewis became the first American since Beth Daniel (1994) to win the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. The award highlights the consistency of Lewis’ year.
“As Americans we hear about that all the time, it’s been 18 years or it’s been 20 years or whatever it is,” Lewis said. “I’m just glad to have that kind of checked off the list. We’ve got to get American golf on the map.”
Lewis started the week playing alongside the only two players who could overtake her and win the Vare: Suzann Pettersen and Inbee Park. She needed to beat Pettersen by nine strokes this week to take the title and went into the weekend tied with the fiery Norwegian.
Daniel remembers the Vare race going down to the wire in 1994 and found herself counting strokes.
“It totally throws you out of your game and your rhythm and your thought process,” Daniel said. “I could feel was she was feeling this week.”
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3. POINT OF INTEREST: Moriya Jutanugarn overtook Caroline Masson to win the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Race, becoming the first-ever Thai player to win the award. Jutanugarn trailed by 11 points going into the Titleholders, and finished T-33 – making a 4-foot putt on the last hole – to edge Masson, who is nursing a broken thumb, by one point.
“I feel like I did it for my country, for my family, for my fans, for Thailand,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m pretty sure everybody is going to be really happy.”
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4. CHECK, PLEASE: Lydia Ko is happy it’s over. Nothing glamorous here this week in Naples, but a respectable pro debut for a 16-year-old kid. Ko finished the week 4 under, good for a tie for 21st and a $16,063 paycheck.
“I didn’t feel that nervous this week,” Ko said. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.”
Ko’s said she didn’t think about money at all, adding that she hoped to maintain that mindset for the rest of her career.
“I’m not playing for money,” Ko said. “Obviously I am, but I’m playing because I love the sport and I love just being out here.”
Ko heads to Orlando, Fla., for a few days before flying to Taiwan for the Swinging Skirts event. She hopes to buy a new camera, a Canon, with her winnings.
“I think better results (come with) the better equipment and cameras I can get, right?” Ko asked.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Inbee Park capped off her monster year with the season-ending money title, banking $2,456,619. “There is definitely room to improve for next year,” said Park. “I’ll probably have a little more pressure on me next year, but I think I have a lot of pressure this year anyways, so I think a little bit more doesn’t really make a difference for me.” . . . Eight players crossed the $1 million mark this season. . . . Natalie Gulbis entered Sunday with a share of the lead and dropped to a tie for 29th after a closing 82. She hit eight greens and took 35 putts. . . . Ai Miyazato withdrew before the final round with an ailing stomach.