China's highest ranked female player talks about inspiring her country's next generation of golfers, and how she's been supporting her home country during the pandemic.


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Back in January, Shanshan Feng, the former world No. 1 and still the highest ranked Chinese player in the Rolex Rankings at No. 24, left China to continue her winter training at her home in Los Angeles. As she waved goodbye to family and friends in Guangzhou, all was well in her golfing world, with the coronavirus nothing more than a seemingly minor blip...

Of course that situation would change dramatically in the weeks which followed. Shanshan's plans for returning to her side of the world to compete in the start-of-season tournament swing in Thailand, Singapore and Hainan Island, never materialised as all three of those events were crossed from the schedule. All she could do was sit tight in the West. 

Of course she was worried about her parents in Guangzhou, which is no more than 600 miles west of Wuhan, the hub of the virus, but, like Yu Liu, currently China’s No.2 to her No. 1, she set out to do everything she could to help her Chinese relatives. Ruby Chen, Shanshan’s manager, explained to how the player was also working with friends in America to buy medical and protective products to send back to China.

Meanwhile, in February Yu donated around 40,000 USD to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan.

But it was back in November that Women & Golf caught up with Shanshan at the men’s WGC-HSBC World championship in Shenzhen, in the South East of China. Though she wasn't involved in the championship itself, she and Yu had both been asked to run a series of clinics for local children.

It was fascinating to see Shanshan in what was a very different set of circumstances for her, and it came as no surprise that nothing about her demeanour changed our view that she is among the least ostentatious of Major winners.

In truth, she was so busy singing the praises of all the male players in town - she picked out such as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Li Haotong and Justin Rose - that it was as if she did not consider herself to be any kind of a golfer at all.

Yet had you asked the locals in Shenzhen to name their favourite players, the chances are that they would have put Shanshan at or near the top of their lists, and that the smiling Lui, would get a few mentions too. What many of the world’s golf fans fail to remember about Shanshan is that her feat in winning a major - the event in question was the 2012 Wegmans LPGA championship - has yet to be matched by any of her compatriots, male or female.

When Women & Golf asked Shanshan if she thought that her Wegman’s title had been key to the Chinese awakening on the junior front, she was more hesitant than we had expected. 

“It was a combination of things, really,” she said thoughtfully, “My getting to be the No 1 in the World was another contributory factor, as was my bronze medal at the last Olympics. It’s when all of those things came together that people started to realise that it was not just the Americans, the Koreans, the English and the Australians who could be good at golf. There was no reason why the Chinese couldn’t be up there with them."

In fact, even as she was talking, Li Haotong, a Chinese player operating on the European Tour as well as in the States, was starting his third round of the WGC-HSBC World Championships with five birdies in his first six holes and getting cheered to high heaven in the process.

Though Shanshan did not mention it that week, Chinese kids listen to everything she has to say. Girls such as Yu Lui, for instance, nowadays forgo Japan as a stepping-stone to the LPGA Tour and do as Shanshan did and head straight for the States. Shanshan knows they might find it unutterably tough but, since she was able to make it work, she strongly believes that they can do the same. (Yu, judging from her demeanour, is clearly thriving on doing things the Shanshan way.)

In connection with the above, Shanshan felt the need to spell out how she has made her lifestyle work.

“A lot of the women on tour,” she ventured, “are not happy with what they are doing because the pressure puts them off. Me, I take the pressure out of the equation by steering clear of everything that can add to the stress. I don’t look at leaderboards, I don’t want to know what the cut is going to be, and I don’t want to know what others are doing. Going on from there, I don’t watch golf on television and I mostly don’t want to talk about it. If you listen to too much information, you worry.”

The story of her rise to the top is no less telling.

She had been a strong junior on the Chinese amateur circuit and for her the game came so easily that she qualified for the LPGA tour at her first attempt. A doddle, she thought. Only then things began to go wrong. “All I did at the beginning,” she said ruefully, “was to miss cuts."

But for her, a missed cut did not have to turn into in a wasted weekend. Almost always, she would go out and follow the leaders over their last couple of rounds in a bid to see if she could learn from them. “I would say to myself, ‘I’ve been playing the same course that they’re playing and, for the most part, I’ve been playing in the same conditions. So what is it that I’m not doing right?’

“What I eventually realised,” she continued, in a little spiel which reminded me a bit of how she had been viewing the Rorys and the Jordans of this world, “is that I had been too busy hero-worshipping the top players, thinking of them as being in a different division to me when that simply wasn’t true. They were not the geniuses that I had made them out to be. True, they were four or maybe five shots better than I was all the time, but there was nothing they did that I couldn’t learn. I just needed to hole a few more putts and hit my irons closer to the hole.’”

We wish her best of the luck as the LPGA restarts on July 31.

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