x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dominant Asian women golfers credit 'pushy' parents

With Shanshan Feng and Seo Hee-kyung competing in Dubai, it was inevitable the rise of Asian players in women¿s golf would constitute a topic of discussion.

China's Shanshan Feng says Asian players are 'mentally tough' and get a head start on their European counterparts. Satish Kumar / The National
China's Shanshan Feng says Asian players are 'mentally tough' and get a head start on their European counterparts. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // With Shanshan Feng and Seo Hee-kyung competing for in Dubai for the first time this week, it was inevitable the rise of Asian players in women's golf would constitute a topic of discussion.

Three of the season's four major championship titles were won by South Koreans, and the fourth, the LPGA Championship, was captured by Feng, who is Chinese.

That makes it nine Asian triumphs in the past 12 major championships, while the world rankings, headed by the Taiwanese star Yani Tseng, are dominated by Koreans and Japanese.

Sixty of the world's top 100 women golfers are from Asia, with Feng representing the highest-ranked player in the 108-strong field at Emirates Golf Club.

Having placed China on the golfing map this summer, the world No 6 says the sport in her homeland will only increase in popularity.

Asia is set for sustained success.

"I'm not surprised because the reason Asian women are really good is because we're always mentally tough; we work real hard," Feng said.

"Our parents would push us so hard. If you want to become a professional they'll make sure you practice so many hours per day and watch you do it.

"But in other places, like America and Europe, parents don't push players as much growing up. We spend more time on our games when we're young and so, when we turn 18, we've already been playing for at least 10 years."

Seo, rookie of the year on the 2011 LPGA Tour, concedes she found it difficult to make the transition two years ago from the Korea tour to the American circuit - despite having tasted victory in 2010 at California's Kia Classic - but agrees her upbringing provided a foundation for coping with life at the top level of the women's game.

"Good players have always worked hard, but from young we get used to competing with a lot of pressure and in difficult situations," she said. "It helps a lot, especially as western players are just enjoying the game when they are 13 or 14.

"They're still searching for their future; are not 100 per cent sure in what they what to do. But in Korea, we put everything into it from a young age, from around 10 or 11."

As buoyant as the Asians have been on the main women's tours, the men's game has yet to follow a similar trend. Japan's Hiroyuki Fujita sits highest in the rankings at No 43, although KJ Choi, YE Yang, Bae Sang-moon and Noh Seung-yul are familiar names on the PGA Tour.

There are signs of an emerging young brigade, though, as Ryo Ishikawa, the 21-year-old Japanese, becomes more consistent, while next year's Masters will contain an intriguing subplot in the form of Guan Tianlang, a 14-year-old prodigy from Guangzhou, Feng's hometown.

Last June, Guan's compatriot Andy Zhang was 14 when he contested the US Open at the Olympic Club.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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