China’s first major winner is not pushing herself to repeat 2012 success, but she is using feel-good factor to her advantage, writes John McAuley.
Shanshan Feng looks back to surge forward at Dubai Ladies Masters
Not surprisingly, Shanshan Feng is eager to conjure the spirit of 12 months ago.
In truth, it should not be too difficult, given that China’s best-known female golfer returned on Monday to Emirates Golf Club and promptly found her image plastered all over the place.
As the most recent winner of the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, it was more-than-likely expected. Yet that does not dull the sense of satisfaction one iota.
“I’m really happy,” Feng said. “When I came to the course this afternoon, it was my first time back, and I saw my picture everywhere. So I was really pleased and proud of myself and what I did last year.”
She should be. Having only months previously become the first golfer from China to capture a major championship, Feng concluded the 2012 Ladies European Tour calendar with a flawless, wire-to-wire victory on the Majlis.
At 21 under, which was five shots better than her nearest rival, there was also the cachet of posting the lowest 72-hole score in the tournament’s seven-year history. As exclamation marks go, it was pretty emphatic.
Presumably, then, this year it is simply more of the same.
“No, I’m just aiming for top five,” Feng said. “I’m not going to give myself more pressure. Defending a title is usually very difficult, so setting that goal makes me more comfortable. I just want to bring out my A-game and try my best.”
In any case, victory this week would be viewed a bonus. Following a stunning six-victory campaign worldwide last season, Feng set herself the seemingly modest target of collecting a pair of trophies on the 2013 LPGA Tour. She eventually succeeded, in October winning in Beijing and matching the feat last month in Florida.
Beijing would have provided particular bragging rights, as Feng held off Stacy Lewis, the world No 3 and freshly anointed Women’s British Open champion, to card a career-low four-day score of 26-under. It eclipsed last December’s stroll around the Dubai Ladies Masters.
So, this week’s event renews a now-familiar rivalry. Feng and Lewis have fast become common combatants – they were paired in the last round at the LPGA Titleholders, which Feng won – and a potential dust-up in the desert suggests Feng will have to be on her game. She acknowledges as much.
“I really enjoy playing with Stacy,” Feng said. “She’s a very nice girl and a very competitive player, so having her in the field really makes me want to play better.”
The tournament’s 107 other contestants should take note. Play better? It is easy to imagine last year’s performance could not be bettered.
“Of course it can,” Feng said. “There’s a chance. Why not? Since last time I was here, my iron shots are better and I’m mentally more mature. And when I’m nervous, I know better how to control my body and what I should do.”
A little restraint may be called for post-tournament, too.
A self-confessed “fan of the bling”, Feng used a portion of the 2012 winner’s cheque – she had banked €75,000 (Dh373,437) – to expand her wardrobe.
She has her mum in tow this time around, though Feng rates her as an equally keen shopper.
“Last year, I got myself a very nice pair of shoes and a party handbag; nothing really, really big,” said Feng, an Omega brand ambassador. “But this year, I brought my mum with me, so we’re not going to miss out on the shopping. We’re not going to miss anything, actually.
“Mum wants a pretty dress – Dubai should be a good place to get that.”
Now accustomed to her surroundings, Feng should have no problems acting as a tour guide.
“Last year when I came, I knew nothing, but this year I’m back at Jebel Ali Hotel,” she said. “So I know where to go, where reception was, where to have breakfast and how to call for the shuttle bus and everything.
“It feels really good being back here. It feels like being at home.”