Feng in spotlight as LPGA plays in China

By Randall MellOctober 2, 2013, 1:08 pm

Someday, perhaps during an Olympics, we might be talking about “Shanshan’s kids.”

We might be talking about a talented wave of young Chinese women golfers the way we talk about “Se Ri’s kids” and how Pak inspired a wave of new South Korean champions.

If we are, though, we aren’t likely to hear any of them tell the story of how they stayed up into the wee hours of the morning in 2012 to see Shanshan Feng win the Wegmans LPGA Championship to become the first man or woman from mainland China to win a major championship. That’s because the Chinese media barely noticed at the time that Feng won. Her victory wasn’t celebrated in national TV highlights. She didn’t make front pages with her breakthrough, or even the front of sports sections the way Li Na did when she won the French Open in 2011 to become the first Asian to win a Grand Slam event in tennis.

Even today, Feng, 24, can walk the crowded streets or stores of her hometown, Guangzhou, without being recognized.

“Golf isn’t very popular in China yet,” Feng told GolfChannel.com in a telephone interview. “Not many people could watch the tournament when I won and know how huge it was to win a major. I can still go wherever I want, do what I want, without being recognized on the streets back home.”

That might just change this week.

Golf’s new frontier is opening its door to the world’s best in women’s golf.

China hosts the new Reignwood LPGA Classic, set to begin Thursday at the Pine Valley Golf Club in Beijing as the first of five tournaments in the tour’s fall Asian swing.

No. 1 Inbee Park is among seven of the top 10 in the Rolex Rankings in the field of 81 players. So is No. 3 Stacy Lewis, but they aren’t the lead stories going into this event.

This is “Jenny’s” week. That’s what Feng’s American friends call her. This is homecoming week for China’s premier player.

The Reignwood LPGA Classic is getting the kind of Chinese national TV attention never seen before in women’s golf. CCTV5 is televising the tournament live. That’s a first for women’s golf on that nation’s equivalent of ESPN.

“I’m excited, but I do feel a little bit of pressure,” Feng said. “I know everybody will be looking at me to see how I do, but I’m really looking forward to this.”

Feng will get more national network TV time this week than she has ever received in her homeland.

“Having the LPGA live on CCTV5 is huge for China, a great chance to show the Chinese people how great women’s golf is,” Feng said. “This is a chance to put golf on the same level as tennis and diving and other sports. I hope I can do something to make golf more popular in China.”

Feng grew up in Guangzhou, 1,300 miles south of Beijing, but she has played the Pine Valley Golf Club before. She was 11 when she played in a Chinese women’s professional event there.

Her parents are flying with her to Beijing to watch the tournament. Typically, they make one trip to see her play one or two LPGA events a year.

“My parents are very excited,” Feng said. “Every day, my mom is out singing songs in the street.”

Feng is ranked No. 9 in the world. This event will feature 18 other Chinese players, many of them from the China LPGA Tour, but Feng is clearly the brightest star in the country’s women’s golf lineup. The next highest ranked Chinese player is Xi Yu Lin, who is No. 231 in the world. It was notable that Reignwood, the title sponsor to this week’s tournament, announced on Wednesday that it was signing Feng to an endorsement deal.

“This has been a dream of Jenny’s for so long,” said Gary Gilchrist, Feng’s coach. “I think her whole life has been focused on just playing golf, and trying to get where she needs to be, but now that she is playing the LPGA tour, this tournament means a hell of a lot more.”

Feng’s rise as a pro has come with Gilchrist at her side. She was 17 when Gilchrist heard about her from his Asian connections. He offered her a full scholarship to the International Junior Golf Academy, where he was the director back then. He trusted his contacts so thoroughly, he made the scholarship offer without ever having seen her play.

Feng grew so close to Gilchrist, she followed him a year later when he left the academy and struck out on his own. When she was 18, Feng signed up for LPGA Q-School with Gilchrist on her bag as caddie. She squeezed through second stage and then went on to win her tour card.

“She had so much courage coming over when she was 17, not being able to speak much English,” Gilchrist said. “She’s had her battles and her struggles coming up.”

Feng came up the junior and pro ranks in the shadow of Yani Tseng, Taiwan’s star.

“She was always compared to Yani,” Gilchrist said. “It’s just phenomenal to see what Jenny has done, watching her battle through all of those challenges to become a top-10 player in the world. It’s fantastic, but she’s still never received the attention she deserves in her home country. I don’t think they really realize what she’s accomplished, but I think, in the near future, they will recognize what she’s done in the game of golf for her country.”

 Someday soon, China may be talking about “Shanshan’s kids” as a tribute to the path Feng is blazing in women’s golf in that country.

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.