In November of 2017, Shanshan Feng won the Blue Bay LPGA, her ninth LPGA victory. After that win, she became the first golfer from China, male or female, to reach No.1 in the world ranking. Though it seemed like momentum in her career was building, that tournament turned out to be her last win for nearly two years.
At the 2019 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic, Feng’s long wait for another win finally ended, her birdie on the 18th hole defeating Ariya Jutanugarn by one shot. Feng’s four-round total of 29-under was the second-lowest 72-hole score in relation to par in LPGA history.
Jutanugarn, playing in the group ahead of Feng, hit one of her best shots of the day into the 18th green, putting it within 18 inches of the hole. She made the birdie putt to tie Feng at 28-under. Though Feng was in the 18th fairway, she had no idea that Jutanugarn had made birdie, until she caught a glance of the leaderboard behind the 18th green.
“I thought I had it [won] when I was walking up to the green on the last hole because I saw so many people here,” said Feng. “And then before I putt I looked up at the leaderboard and I’m like, ‘Oh, no. I had to make that one.’ So actually the last putt was under a lot of pressure. I was like, ‘You know what? You’ve been doing really well this week. Just make another good putt.’ That’s what I did.”
Making the three-foot putt for birdie on 18 clinched the victory for Feng, but it was her ball-striking that really won the tournament for her. Today at Thornberry Creek in Oneida, Wisconsin, it was as good as it has ever been. She hit every green en route to a nine-under 63. The impressive ball-striking display is the product of a lot of work. Feng said in an effort to get more distance off the tee last season, she lost the feeling of her swing. And finally now, she’s getting it back.
“I would say that my ball-striking is always my strength,” said the 29-year-old. “But actually starting from last year I kind of lost it a little bit. I tried to get more distance off the tees and then actually maybe just messed up the feeling about controlling the ball.”
Coincidentally, in finding her swing again, she has also found more distance off the tee. In 2018, Feng averaged 250 yards off the tee, which ranked her 102nd on the tour. In 2019, she’s averaged 261 yards, ranking 65th. But while distance is great, there’s another important driving stat when it comes to scoring: accuracy. Feng is ninth on the LPGA, hitting 80 percent of fairways. Combine 11 more yards off the tee with a high percentage of fairways hit and her laser-like iron game that she had on display in Wisconsin, and Feng’s return to the winner’s circle seems like it was inevitable.