When Simin Feng answered the phone, she was in the home stretch of writing a paper. Feng apologized profusely, hung up to finish the thought, then dutifully called back to talk golf.
It’s a sequence of events that shows many aspects of Feng’s character, and how she’s adapted to being a freshman at academically rigorous Vanderbilt. Despite two trips back home to China to play events during the fall semester, Feng maintained a 3.4 GPA for her first 12 hours of college classes.
“College in general is different than what I expected,” said Feng, who feels she’s now hit her stride in Franklin, Tenn.
Feng appeared in three of four Vanderbilt starts in the fall and finished fifth, T-19 and T-23. During that time, she also played in the LPGA Reignwood Classic in Beijing (finishing T-29) and represented Beijing in the China National Games. Two separate tournaments requiring two separate flights to Beijing and back. Combine that with three starts as a Commodore and the missed classes added up.
“That’s a whole lot to catch up on,” said Feng, a bright student who was able to make it work.
Feng’s other adjustment lately has come in the form of her gallery. It’s Vanderbilt head coach Greg Allen and assistant Holly Clark keeping her company on the course these days rather than her parents. That has helped Feng become more and more independent.
Allen describes Feng as a resilient player (she was able to play her way out of a sever slump as a junior golfer and emerge a better player). He watched with awe as she navigated so many changes during the fall semester.
“The more comfortable she gets with college golf, the better she is going to play,” Allen said.
Vanderbilt made news recently by breaking a winless streak that was more than six years long. It far predated Feng, but she was crucial in bringing home that team title Feb. 18 from the Central District Invitational. Feng tied for first then won a scorecard playoff for her first collegiate victory.
Allen had brought in a company called Train To Be Clutch to assist in mental preparation, but Feng thinks she benefited more from the life coaching aspect of that experience. Feng unloaded feelings of stress in college, and the coaches helped her create ways to manage it. Feng remembers constantly feeling rushed in the fall, and like she wasn’t getting enough out of her practice. That’s all changed.
“The general picture seems more clear so it’s easier for me to focus on little things instead of worrying on everything – if I’m doing it wrong, just stuff like that,” she said. “I can practice on my own and still make it effective.”
Feng’s Central District victory also marked her first tournament title since the 2012 AJGA Girls Championship. Feng’s junior career was both fruitful and frustrating. She burst onto the scene in 2009 as the 13-year-old champion of the inaugural AJGA Annika Invitational only to undergo swing changes over the next few years that took her to the bottom of leaderboards and back.
Feng, who works on her swing with David Leadbetter, is firmly on the rise again. Between her Central District victory and two other third-place finishes this spring, she has risen to No. 13 in Golfweek’s rankings. She ended the fall ranked No. 32.
Feng’s goal at the beginning of the season was to earn All-American status, not to wrack up victories. Her new-found preparedness should put her on that track.
“As time goes on, you just stop thinking about it, just play golf,” she said.
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Other notable players and performances:
• The top five players in Golfweek’s rankings (Annie Park, USC; Yu Liu, Duke; Alison Lee, UCLA; Stephanie Meadow, Alabama; Kyung Kim, USC) had the week off. UCLA and USC will play The Challenge at the Farms on March 24-26 while Duke plays the Bryan National Collegiate on March 28-30. Alabama next appears at the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic the first week of April.
• The next two LPGA tour events, the Kia Classic and the Kraft Nabisco Championship, will showcase college talent. Stanford’s Mariah Stackhouse (No. 6 by Golfweek) won an exemption into the Kia and four collegians (Park, Lee, Alabama’s Emma Talley and Clemson’s Ashlan Ramsey) will play the Kraft.