Feng has plenty of drive

Updated: 2012-12-30 07:59

By Tang Zhe(China Daily)

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Feng has plenty of drive

 Feng has plenty of drive

Feng Shanshan (right) plays during the CLPGA China Ladies Open this month as her caddie, Mercer Leftwich, looks on. Feng won the LPGA Championship in June and became the first golfer from the Chinese mainland to win a major. Her success was the highlight of a year which saw a series of breakthoughs from Chinese players. Provided to China Daily

LPGA Championship winner's sights set on long-time rival Tseng, writes Tang Zhe.

Chinese golfers established themselves on the international stage with some remarkable performances this year. Feng Shanshan led the way by claiming the LPGA Championship in June, becoming the first golfer from the Chinese mainland to win a major.

The 23-year-old Guangdong native also had three wins on the Japan LPGA Tour and two on the Ladies European Tour and finished 2012 ranked No 5 in the world.

"Two victories on the Japan tour last year brought my confidence back and, with a good mentality and strong form, I got off to a great start this year," said Feng, who went through a 3 1/2 -year title-drought before her wins in 2011.

"I set a target for myself at the beginning of the year and that was to win a US-based LPGA Tour tournament, and make the top 10 in a major," Feng said. "It was a little bit unexpected that my first win was a major, but I was also confident that I could achieve that.

"Three wins in Japan and two on the European tour, I would never even have thought about that a year ago. I have improved a lot in skill and mentality," Feng said at the Hyundai China Ladies Open, her last tournament of 2012, in Xiamen this month.

There is still room for improvement, Feng says, and she has her sights set on catching up with world No 1 Tseng Ya-ni, with whom she shares the same coach, Gary Gilchrist, in the US.

"I would rate this year as 90 out of 100 points. Why not 100 points? I think I can build on this and improve myself in the future. This is not my zenith," Feng said.

"Next year, my goal is to catch up with Tseng Ya-ni. Since 13, 14, the first time I met Ya-ni, she is the one that I try to catch. The gap between us is closer and closer. Now I am world No 5, but she hasn't slowed down. She's still No 1."

In the men's field, Wu Ashun served notice he could be the new face of Chinese golf when he became the first male player from China to win a tournament on the Japan Golf Tour in September.

Also cause for optimism is the emergence of some talented teens as the country sets its sights on making an impact at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Soon after Feng claimed the LPGA Championship title, teenager Zhang Huachuang (Andy Zhang), who became an alternate after performing well in sectional qualifying, made the field for the US Open. Zhang became the youngest player to participate in the tournament at the age of 14.

He spent the bulk of his childhood in Beijing, but moved to Florida at the age of 10 to concentrate on golf. His stunning entry into the US Open drew praise from his idol, Tiger Woods.

Another Chinese prodigy is Guan Tianlang. The 14-year-old schoolboy earned a berth at the US Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, also at the age of 14, in Thailand in November.

He will become the youngest ever player at a major when he tees off with the world's elite at the Masters in Augusta in April. The win also secured him a place in the final round of international qualifying for next year's British Open.

Ahead of that, the Guangzhou native, who picked up a club at the age of four and told his father he wanted to win a Grand Slam event in golf at eight, has collected numerous titles and set records in junior and amateur tournaments.

He is the youngest champion of the China Amateur Golf Open and the youngest winner of the Aaron Baddeley Invitational, which qualified him to play at the 2012 Australian Open. He also became the youngest player in the history of the European PGA when he teed off in the Volvo China Open in April.

"I feel he is already mature and steady in every aspect of his play," said Chinese golfer Liang Wenchong, who paired with Guan in the Ryder Cup-style OneAsia Nissan Cup tournament in Shenzhen in November. "I was amazed by his skill and what he can do at the age of 14. It gives me the feeling that the young generation is rising rapidly.

"I think, with his body growing stronger, he will become a complete golfer. He is just short of physical power and lacks hitting distance now." said the 34-year-old, who received an invitation to play at the Masters in 2008. "He is the brightest young player in China, and we all hope he will have a great future."

Zhang Xiaoning, secretary-general of the Chinese Golf Association, said the sport's inclusion at the Olympics has given it a shot in the arm in China, a country well known for the State-support system that helps to develop top-level talent.

"Golf is a sport that demands technique more than athleticism. It's a sport that's quite suitable for the Chinese," Zhang said. "I'm sure as long as golf is developed under the State-support system it will produce some of the world's best players - just like in table tennis and badminton."

(China Daily 12/30/2012 page8)