NAPLES, Fla. – Shanshan Feng seems determined to awaken the sleeping giant in golf.
Feng won another big event Sunday to make her native China proud.
Feng, trying to inspire her homeland to love golf as much as she does, separated herself from a star-studded leaderboard with a fast start in the final round to win the CME Group Titleholders.
With four birdies over the first six holes at Tiburon, Feng took control early in the final round, posting a bogey-free 6-under-par 66 to beat Gerina Piller (69) by a single shot. At 15-under 273, Feng outplayed some of the biggest names in women's golf, pulling away from a jam-packed leaderboard that included Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie and Natalie Gulbis.
Feng, 24, relishes China’s emerging place in the game, and she’s giving her country reasons to take notice of the women’s game. She is the nation’s most decorated golfer. That’s three LPGA titles now in two seasons.
Feng is making every win something special.
A year ago, she broke through to win the Wegmans LPGA Championship, becoming the first man or woman from China to win a major championship in golf. Last month, she fashioned a storybook win, prevailing in the first LPGA event staged in mainland China with an eagle at the final hole. She beat Lewis in a final-round duel at the Reignwood Classic in Beijing. On Sunday at the CME Group Titleholders, Feng claimed the richest first-place check in women’s golf, taking home $700,000.
Winning in China, Feng said, emboldened her.
“It was magic when I won in China,” Feng said. “I got confidence back.”
Feng also might have stumbled upon some enchanting new ritual in Beijing. She dined with Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park and No. 4 So Yeon Ryu after the first round there and caught fire the rest of the way. She said she went to a barbecue where Ryu was staying on the eve of the CME Group Titleholders. Park was also there, and a few days later Feng ended up hoisting another trophy.
“I think from now on, every week, I’m going to call them and say, `Hey, can we have dinner together?’” Feng said.
This victory came down to the final hole, where Piller tried to force a playoff with some magic of her own. After pushing her tee shot at the final hole behind a small bush, Piller hit a towering 7-iron, muscling it over the bush to 10 feet.
Piller, seeking her first LPGA title, watched her birdie putt drift, just right of the hole, leaving Feng the winner.
“To come out and grind like I did, and give myself an opportunity to force a playoff, I’m pretty excited about that,” Piller said. “Shanshan is super consistent, and, obviously, she’s a major champion. So, hats off to her.”
Feng has worked with Gary Gilchrist as her coach since before she turned pro. He has helped her develop one of the most dependable swings in women's golf. She won Sunday despite a balky putter. She missed at least three birdie chances from point-blank range and still prevailed.
“That’s her ball striking,” said Mercer Leftwich, Feng’s caddie. “She is a phenomenal ball striker. It’s fun to watch, when she’s on.”
With the win, Feng will climb to No. 4 in the Rolex world rankings.
Feng said she isn’t sure what she will do with the $700,000.
“Maybe I’ll put it in the bank first, then think of what to get myself and my friends for Christmas,” she said. “I’m not a person that likes to spend money.”
What Feng likes is making China proud. The LPGA will play two tournaments in China next year. Details of the second will be announced in February.
“I like helping Chinese golf grow,” Feng said. “It’s my job. I want to promote golf in China. Hopefully, when we go back to China next year, we will have even more people watching and more time on TV.”
That might be the formula for awakening a sleeping giant.