Shanshan Feng makes noise with 66
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- On the course, Shanshan Feng, the first player from China not only to play but to win on the LPGA, talks to her golf ball in English -- proving she has command of both the language and the game.
"Actually, you know what? It's really weird," Feng said in better English than, say, Boo Weekley. "If I'm talking to my caddie, I'm so used to speaking English on the course that if he wants me to calculate the yardage or wind in Chinese, I actually mess it up."
Thursday's messages were delivered loud and clear.
In the opening round of the Kraft Nabisco, the season's first major championship, the 24-year-old and world No. 7 let her game speak volumes, delivering a 6-under-par 66 for a one-stroke lead. Michelle Wie and Se Ri Pak were tied for second at 67.
It was a round of strength and consistency. She hit fairways. She hit greens. She made seven birdies against only one bogey.
And she did it playing alongside LPGA Hall of Famer and three-time Kraft Nabisco winner Amy Alcott, the woman who in 1988, powered by a rush of adrenaline after sinking her winning putt, took the initial and now traditional "winner's leap" into Poppie's Pond at the 18th green of Mission Hills Country Club.
"She's won three times here in the past, and after my first drive off the first tee I was asking her, I said, 'Can you tell me the secrets about winning here?'" Feng said. "Because before this year I never did well here. So she was telling me all the secrets.
"Well, don't ask me what the secrets are because that's a secret. I'll tell you maybe after we finish Sunday. But I did learn a lot from her."
Alcott was a little more forthcoming about the conversation.
"I gave her some various little tips along the way about making sure she drank a tremendous amount of water because we're in the desert,'' she said. "It's a desert course, and she needs to keep herself hydrated. Sometimes that's just as important as how you're playing so that you have good mental clarity.''
Before Feng is finished, she may provide a few lessons of her own.
With one major, the 2012 LPGA Championship, and two other victories last year already under her belt, the woman who once wanted to become a singer, can hit all the shots, if not the high notes.
Last season she made 18 cuts in 19 events, adding eight additional top-10 finishes to the two wins. She won more than $1.7 million.
Born in Guangzhou, China, Feng started playing at age 10 at the urging of her father, who worked at the golf association in their hometown. Part of the game's initial appeal in comparison to other sports, she admits, was "fewer competitors." Funny, now that she's on the LPGA, there may still be a lot of merit to that reasoning.
"I'm like, I won one in 2012. I won two last year," she said. "Everybody has to go forward. So I'm like, 'OK, I'll set three [for 2014], because I want to keep improving.'"
Alcott certainly appreciated her playing companion.
"She doesn't try to overpower the ball. She hits it very solid. Just a very, very talented young player,'' she said. "So I was very impressed with her putting and just her overall game, just how she managed herself on the golf course. I look for her to do great things.''
Feng said Alcott actually encouraged her.
"I made a bogey on 15, and she was like, okay, let's make two birdies back in the last three holes. I was like, yes, ma'am. Then I only made one, I didn't make two, but I thought that was good enough."
One step at a time. Golf in China remains somewhat in its infancy. Even Feng insists the majority of her countrymen and women know little about her. But that was once said about Se Ri Pak in South Korea. Now, because of Pak, South Korean is a force on the LPGA.
Feng did her part to follow a similar path, last year winning the LPGA's first tournament in Beijing, the Reignwood Classic, edging American Stacy Lewis in front of a thrilled home crowd.
"I was really surprised when we were playing in Beijing there were so many Chinese people actually that came to watch us," she said. "They were all rooting for me, so I was really excited and surprised. But I would say there were more people recognizing me and know about golf a little better now, but still it's not that popular as the other sports like maybe tennis or football.
"But I do think that it's getting bigger and bigger. Like any Chinese player can do well at Rio Olympics, I'm pretty sure everything's going to change."
If Thursday is any indicator, this week at the Kraft Nabisco could one day be an historic milestone.
"Well, of course, we knew it was one of the majors. But to be honest, the U.S. Open and the British Open are the two most famous majors," she said. "But I would say a lot more recognize the men's golf better in China. But now since me and actually Janet Lin, this year we have two Chinese girls on the LPGA, and we have no male players on the PGA. So actually more people are watching the women's golf right now."
That says a lot.