x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Shanshan Feng thrives in shop window

The Chinese golfer enjoys her golf, but also the worldwide retail experiences the sport allows her to have, writes John McAuley.

China's Shanshan Feng is enjoying her time in Dubai, for both golfing and shopping reasons. David Cannon / Getty Images
China's Shanshan Feng is enjoying her time in Dubai, for both golfing and shopping reasons. David Cannon / Getty Images

Shanshan Feng acknowledges she enjoys the finer things in life.

"I like shopping because I'm a girl, of course … ladies love shopping," jokes the world No 6, the highest-ranked player in this week's Dubai Ladies Masters. "And when I see bling-bling, I go crazy."

A first visit to the UAE not only provides a potential sixth trophy of the season - in June, Feng became the first player, male or female, from China to win a major championship - but an opportunity to take in some of the emirate's renowned malls.

"When I told everybody I was going to Dubai the first thing they said was, 'You have to go shopping: handbags and jewellery.' I have a full schedule here, but I'll still make time to shop. I'll figure out a way."

It is easy to understand why, after four years of considerable toil, Feng, 23, is fast becoming a hit on the US LPGA Tour. The woman who likes her American peers to call her "Jenny", is one of the circuit's more vibrant figures, with an easy disposition and an infectious giggle.

She tries not to take herself too seriously, once offering a routine chuckle after temporarily losing her train of thought: "Sorry, I wasn't there for a moment. Yeah, sometimes my mind does that."

Feng should be afforded a little leeway. A committed member of the LPGA Tour, she racks up air miles and stockpiles jet lag by regularly featuring, too, on the Ladies European Tour (LET), and its Chinese and Japanese counterparts.

The majority of players at Emirates Golf Club are bringing an end to their season this week, but Feng will travel to the China Open, taking her 2012 tournament count to a fatigue-inducing 32.

"I feel really good; I picked the right job for myself," she counters.

"A lot of my friends are very envious because they see me going to all these different places and getting all these different things.

"I get to try all the good food and do a lot of shopping. So it's OK, huh? Not all that bad."

However, the casual composition should not be confused with an acceptance of golfing mediocrity. Having been introduced to the game at 10 by a father employed at the golf association in Guangzhou, her hometown, she honed her skills by hitting 200 balls a day, five days a week.

Feng enjoyed a decorated amateur career that yielded nine victories in China before she earned her LPGA Tour card in late 2007. She mastered English soon after.

Feng recorded several top-10 finishes throughout her first three full campaigns in the States, but victory as a professional was not recorded until August last year at the Meiji Cup, an event on the less-vaunted LPGA of Japan Tour.

Four further wins in Japan have since been registered, and in March the individual event at the World Ladies Championship provided Feng with an opening title on the LET.

Three months later, though, she burst into the big time. A bogey-free final-round 67 - the lowest of the tournament - at the LPGA Championship, the season's second major, thrust Feng into a three-stroke lead, and she watched anxiously as groups behind struggled to catch her clubhouse target.

After viewing the drama unfold at Locust Hill Country Club in the on-course Golf Channel broadcasting booth, Feng celebrated a two-shot victory that vaulted her into the golfing consciousness.

"It felt unreal," she says. "My best finish in a major until that point was around 30th, and suddenly I was a major champion. It was kinda unbelievable, but I was expecting to win on the LPGA Tour this year.

"I had two goals at the beginning of the season: first to win a title there and, second, to get a top 10 in a major. Then I did both in one week."

Understandably, her popularity in China soared.

"When I landed in Beijing airport there was media and cameras and sponsors waiting for me," Feng says.

"People gave me flowers and I was giving interviews in the airport, which made me feel like a star. I'd never had that before.

"Before I won the major I was just somebody walking on the street. I could have a hamburger in one hand and cola in the other and stand eating right there. Nobody would recognise me.

"But, even though golf is still not that popular in China, if I'm now in an airport or a restaurant, somebody will recognise me, come up and offer encouragement. Sometimes I hear whispers: 'Isn't that Shanshan Feng?' That's pretty funny."

Despite the concession that golf continues to rank in interest behind traditional Chinese sports, Feng is helping develop the game in her homeland. She regularly offers advice to Liu Yu, a 17-year-old girl, also from Guangzhou, who won twice this year on the Chinese tour and secured top-five finishes in two of LET events.

And then there is Andy Zhang, only 14, who participated in the men's US Open in June, and Guan Tianlang, another Guangzhou native, who will attract significant attention when he tees it up, also age 14, in April's Masters.

"Oh yeah, oh my God - Augusta, I'm so envious," Feng says. "I mean, I'm a girl so I might never get to go in. But I'm playing the Women's British Open at the Old Course [St Andrews] next year, so I can't wait.

"I've never done well on any links course, but that's the challenge. That's why we play golf, right? Because if it comes too easy you just don't want to play."

A hunger to climb to the peak of the women's game has for the past 10 years driven Feng. She does not like to set numbers as goals, but reveals catching Yani Tseng, the Taiwanese and the current world No 1 and five-time major champion with whom she shares a coach, acts as a motivational target.

"I've had a great season, but I've seen so many people after great success go downhill," says Feng, now a brand ambassador for Omega. "That's not what I want to do, although at the same time I don't want to put myself under too much pressure because I know my game's improving every year."

After a remarkable breakthrough season, Feng will take for four weeks' rest while in China. A potential highlight of that period is the chance she could win an award in an alternative subcategory for Chinese Sportsperson of the Year. She certainly can be counted to belt out Lady Gaga's Bad Romance among friends at her local karaoke club.

"I'm an average worker," she says. "But I need time away from golf, too. And, of course, there's the shopping."


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