Shanshan Feng may not get the attention other stars enjoy, but she keeps putting her name on leaderboards.
Feng arrived for the LPGA’s season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic this week about as far under the radar as a world No. 1 can get, and then she immediately climbed into contention Thursday on Paradise Island.
Feng opened with a 3-under-par 70 in heavy winds at the Ocean Club Golf Course, leaving her just two shots behind leader Brooke Henderson. Sarah Jane Smith and rookie Luna Sobron Galmes are one shot behind Henderson. Play was suspended by darkness with 12 players still on the course.
Lexi Thompson, one of the most serious challengers to Feng’s Rolex No. 1 ranking, opened with a 72. She played alongside Feng and will do so again on Friday.
“My ball striking isn’t 100 percent,” Feng said about her first start after a long offseason. “So I practiced a lot of chipping and some putting, and that’s why I think I did really well today.”
Feng is one of the tour’s most consistent ball strikers, but she missed more than her usual share of greens with winds gusting hard over the seaside course.
“I saved a lot of up and downs,” Feng said.
Feng saved par five of six times she missed greens.
After taking a month off to rest her ailing right hand, Thompson was solid in her first start of the year. The world No. 4 also scrambled well, getting up and down for par eight of nine times she missed greens.
“I felt very comfortable,” Thompson said. “And I putted really well. It’s hard when the wind is blowing and you’re looking over your putt and the ball is trying to move.”
With a new putter in her bag, Thompson needed just 26 putts. She switched out the Bettinardi Queen Bee putter she used all of last year for a Happy Putter, which Brainstorm Golf built to resemble that Queen Bee model.
“I was struggling with my alignment with the Bettinardi,” Thompson said. “I love Bettinardi putters, I just needed a little alignment change.”
The Happy Putter comes with adjustable alignment guides.
“It unscrews so you can put different alignment guides on it,” Thompson said.
Feng has reigned at No. 1 for 11 weeks, but this marks just the second event she has played with the top ranking. She moved to No. 1 after winning back-to-back starts before heading to the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship last year. She held off Thompson’s bid at CME to take the top ranking from her and then enjoyed heading home to China for the offseason.
“I think I claimed the No. 1 at the right time,” Feng cracked. “I didn’t do anything. That was a bonus.”