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Overlooked no more: Inside Feng's journey to No. 1

By Randall MellNovember 13, 2017, 6:13 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Even Shanshan Feng’s trademark cow pants didn’t always do the trick.

Nor did her colorful nickname, “Jenny Money.”

Or the best sense of humor and quips in the women’s game.

Gary Gilchrist, Feng’s coach, marveled at how underestimated, overlooked and overshadowed she typically was coming into the game’s biggest events, even after winning a major championship and an Olympic medal.

But that’s what made late Sunday night so satisfying, when he saw her name officially ascend to Rolex world No. 1.

“What an amazing journey,” Gilchrist said. “Watching her go through the ups and downs, the pressures ... It’s just a huge accomplishment, especially coming from China, and the struggles of golf there.”

Feng, 28, will head to this week’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship looking for her third consecutive victory. She wasn’t sure whether to believe she was actually going to go to No. 1 after winning the Blue Bay LPGA Saturday on Hainan Island in her native China.

Feng held her breath until seeing the Rolex rankings released on Sunday.

“It’s the longest day in my life, to wait for the updates of the world ranking,” Feng said. “When I finally see the Chinese flag on top of the ranking, I feel all the efforts over the past 18 years on golf was worth it.”

Feng is the first player from China to win a major championship, to win an Olympic medal in golf (bronze) and now to hold the world No. 1 ranking in golf.

“I always tell the media that I don’t think I’m a pioneer,” Feng said. “I think I’m a guinea pig.

“Before me, there was nobody [from China] on the LPGA and actually experiencing tour life. So, I do think that I'm a guinea pig, but I'm kind of a successful guinea pig. At least I'm still alive.”

Gilchrist met Feng when she was 17, accepting her at the academy he ran on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. He remembers how she flew under the radar even back then.

“She was like a silent assassin,” Gilchrist said. “We would go to a tournament, and she would be so quiet, just doing her own thing. Nobody would even notice her, and then she would win by 12 shots.”

Gilchrist caddied for Feng at second stage of LPGA’s Q-School when she earned her tour card at 18. He watched her overcome so many obstacles coming from a golfing no-man’s land in China, where the sport wasn’t very popular, even frowned upon as being elitist. Golf was banned in the country until the 1980s.

“The hardest thing was seeing Shanshan get almost no recognition for what she was doing,” Gilchrist said. “It was unbelievable.”

Gilchrist said the toughest challenge Feng faced trying to prove herself early on in China was playing in the shadow of Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, a rival and contemporary who rose to No. 1 by winning in bunches. Taiwan’s complicated relationship with China added to the pressure Feng faced.

“People wanted to compare Shanshan to Yani,” Gilchrist said. “The team managing her at the time wanted to know why she wasn’t playing as well as Yani. They started doubting Shanshan and me.

“Struggling through that, braving through that, Shanshan became mentally stronger and stronger. She is one of the mentally strongest players in the game.”

For Feng, becoming world No. 1 is a feat larger than personal success. Her father, Xiong, is a leader in the Chinese Golf Association in their Guangzhou hometown. Shanshan opened her own golf academy there in May with Gilchrist as a consultant. She is devoted to growing the game.

“As an Olympic sport now, and with Shanshan going to world No. 1, it should propel golf in China to a whole new level,” Gilchrist said. “I was impressed by the level of play I saw in the national games this year.”

Gilchrist captained the Guangdong Province team to a silver medal in the Chinese National Games in September. He hosts a contingent of 16 players from the province every year at his Florida academy.

While China faces more obstacles than South Korea did becoming a women’s golf power, Gilchrist envisions a day when China becomes a force in the sport.

“Shanshan is going to be the Se Ri Pak of China, for sure,” Gilchrist said.

When Feng won the LPGA Championship in 2012, there was just one other Chinese player among the top 400 in the Rolex world rankings. Today, there are nine.

Three years ago, China didn’t come close to qualifying for the UL International Crown. Last year, they were among the top eight nations making it the biennial international team event.

“There are a bunch of girls from China training in Orlando now,” Gilchrist said. “There are so many more Chinese girls playing the game. Definitely, China is going to become one of the top five nations in the world in women’s golf. It has to happen.”

Jing Yan was 16 when she saw Feng make China’s CCTV nightly news. It was how Yan learned Feng won the LPGA Championship.

“Everyone watches the nightly news show,” Yan said. “TV ratings have to be massive. For a golfer to make the nightly news, for the masses to see that, it was big.”

Today, Feng and Yan are one of four Chinese members of the LPGA.

“Golf still has a long way to go in China,” said Yan Ming, Jin’s father. “The country is so big, and you have so many people who still don’t even know what golf is, but Shanshan is making an impact.”

As Rolex world No. 1, Feng finally won’t be so underestimated, overlooked and overshadowed.

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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.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.