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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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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.

 

 

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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”