Feng focused on giving China’s game fresh boost
Rio bronze winner reckons another Olympic medal can swell junior ranks
Women’s golf star Feng Shanshan will head to the Tokyo Olympics knowing full well another podium finish will intensify the spotlight on the game’s continued development in China.
The charismatic Feng won the bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 when golf made a welcome return to the Olympics following a 112-year hiatus, later sparking increased participation among the junior ranks in China.
According to Feng, the number of juniors registered with the China Golf Association has risen from 3,000 in 2015 to over 100,000 golfers at present.
“I would say there are more and more junior players playing,” said the Chinese No 1 during last week’s Women’s PGA Championship, which concluded in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday. “That’s the biggest difference. After these five or six years, it has really changed.”
With China being a traditional Olympic powerhouse, Feng believes the reintroduction of golf to the Games has benefited the sport’s emerging nations.
China only started hosting international pro golf tournaments in 1995, and Feng said the nation’s sports fans often relate easier to Olympic success as opposed to golf ’s major championships. So, with more eyeballs focused on golf during the Olympics, she knows the Tokyo Games are another opportunity to further inspire kids to pick up clubs and learn the game.
“I wouldn’t say it was only about my result (winning the bronze medal). Because golf was in the Olympics, people were like, maybe we should start playing golf. They didn’t really show our tournaments on TV and people didn’t know we actually had pretty good golfers from the country.
“Even though I did win a major, they would be like, oh yeah, maybe she won a big tournament … that was it. They didn’t really understand what a major meant in golf,” said Feng, the first China mainland player to win a women’s major — at the 2012 LPGA Championship.
“I think the Olympics were still the most important thing because everybody got to know about golf first, and maybe more people would start playing it, and then they’ll know more about the game and they will understand what winning a major means.”
Five years ago in Rio, Feng, a 10-time winner on the LPGA Tour, finished third behind Park In-bee of South Korea and Lydia Ko of New Zealand.
Naturally, she will be dreaming of gold at Kasumigaseki Country Club from Aug 4-7. It would be especially sweet if she can pull it off as Feng turns 32 on Aug 5.
Irrespective of the outcome, she expects other Chinese women golfers to emulate, if not better, her success.
“We only had probably 100 or 200 ladies’ pros and we can have a bronze medal at the Olympics and maybe 10 players on the LPGA,” said the former world No 1.
“I think Chinese are really good at playing golf, so if we have more people starting to play golf now, I believe we’re going to have more and more world No 1s and Olympic medalists coming up.”
On Monday, Lin Xiyu was confirmed as Feng’s teammate for the Tokyo Games.
The 25-year-old Lin finished ninth at the Women’s PGA Championship on Sunday.
Carl Yuan Yechun, who plies his trade on the Korn Ferry Tour, and Wu Ashun, a three-time winner on the European Tour, will represent China in the men’s competition from July 29 to Aug 1.
Feng believes the Olympic competition at Kasumigaseki will be another stage for stars of the women’s game to display their talents.
“I think it was a great chance for us to actually play on the same golf course as the men’s (in 2016) and to show the world how good the ladies are, and how much we really want to support ladies’ golf to grow,” she said.
“I think the LPGA has done a great job for us to showcase ourselves. I think we should do everything that we can to support the game and ladies’ golf.”