PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Ten years from now, we may be talking about “Shanshan’s kids.”
We may be talking about a wave of talented young Chinese players winning LPGA events the way we now talk about “Se Ri’s kids” and how Pak ignited an explosion in women’s golf in South Korea when she won the 1998 LPGA Championship and U.S. Women's Open.
That’s how large Shanshan Feng’s breakthrough at the Wegmans LPGA Championship could be.
With a 5-under-par 67 Sunday, the best round of the entire championship, Feng didn’t just become the first player from mainland China to win an LPGA event. She became the first man or woman from there to win a major championship in golf. She may have helped hyper-accelerate a fledgling game there with all kinds of crazy potential.
“I would say if the Koreans can do it, China can do it,” Feng said. “I think in the future, China will be one of the strongest countries in golf.”
Feng’s parents have faith, too.
“My parents tell me all Asians are good at controlling small things,” Feng said.
Feng, 22, was the best of the best Sunday at Locust Hill Country Club, which was almost claustrophobic in its narrow, confining setup. Control was everything in the final round, and nobody controlled her golf ball like Feng.
Almost mistake free Sunday, Feng put up one of only three bogey-free rounds in the Wegmans LPGA Championship.
“Shanshan’s ball striking has been unbelievable for at least a year now,” said Gary Gilchrist, her coach.
Steady and sure, Feng kept creeping up the leaderboard through the final round. Three back at day’s start, she moved into a tie for the lead with a birdie at the 12th. She took sole possession of the lead making pars with challengers falling away as Locust Hill tightened its squeeze on the back nine.
Five players had shares of the lead Sunday.
Feng emerged from a pack of contenders that included major champions Karrie Webb, Suzann Pettersen, Eun-Hee Ji and Stacy Lewis.
With a birdie at the 17th, Feng built a two-shot lead that stood up at the end.
“I still can’t believe it,” Feng said with the championship trophy at her side afterward.
China is the largest nation in the world. There are 1.3 billion living there. Now there's one major champion there.
With the victory, Feng will vault to No. 5 in the Rolex World Golf Rankings. She began the week No. 10, one of just two Chinese women among the top 400 in the world.
“I’m the first,” Feng said of her major championship title. “I’m sure there will be a second and third and more. I do want to be a model where all the juniors are trying to beat my stats.”
Feng began playing in China when she was 10 at the urging of her father, Feng Xiong, who worked with a local golf association. Feng won the China Junior Championship, the China Junior Open and three times won the China Women’s Amateur. She ran into Tseng in larger junior events.
“It was hard on Shanshan growing up,” Gilchrist said. “She was always compared to Yani Tseng, but she persevered. I think perseverance is her strength.”
At 17, Feng gained an golf academy scholarship to the United States, where she trained under Gilchrist on Hilton Head Island. Gilchrist caddied for her a year later at Q-School when she became the first Chinese player to earn LPGA membership. She would go on to win three times on the Japan LPGA Tour and once on the Ladies European Tour.
“I’ve always been chasing Yani,” Feng said. “I’m still chasing her.”
On Sunday, Feng finally passed Tseng on a grand stage.
Feng’s victory, combined with the Olympic movement, is expected to light a fire for the game in China.
“Golf has never been a major sport in China because it’s never been an Olympic sport,” Gilchrist said. “China sports are all about the Olympics, so a lot more people are excited about golf now.”
And excited about Feng.