By Andrew Both
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Chinese golf pioneer Shanshan Feng did not have any company when she joined the LPGA Tour in 2008, but will happily leave it in good hands with a bunch of compatriots ready to assume the spotlight after she exits the stage.
Feng, 29, is unsure about her future, not ready to commit to playing beyond next year’s Tokyo Olympics, which means the U.S. Women’s Open starting on Thursday could be her second-last appearance in the championship.
There are a record seven Chinese players with LPGA Tour membership, and four are playing at Country Club of Charleston – Feng, Yu Liu, Yan Liu and Jing Yan.
Yu Liu has posted a runner-up finish this year and lies a healthy 20th on the LPGA money list, best of the Chinese contingent ahead of Feng in 23rd spot.
“In the past it was just myself trying to play on the tour,” former world number one Feng said in an interview with Reuters on the driving range as an unrelenting sun beat down on Wednesday.
“Now we have more Chinese girls and they actually get on the leaderboards too, and that’s more exciting because I don’t know how much longer I can play for, so after I retire I hope I can still see Chinese flags on leaderboards and see them on TV.”
Describing herself as a “big sister” figure to her younger compatriots, Feng this week will make her 13th U.S. Open appearance. She has had two top-five finishes.
Her form has been steady rather than spectacular, and she spent a lot of time during practice rounds chipping and putting in an effort to learn the nuances of the greens.
Particularly daunting are the “false fronts”, so called because of ledges that repel balls that do not land further up on the more level part of the putting surface.
“These false fronts are really false fronts,” Feng said smiling.
“If you don’t get over the false front (the ball) it’s going to come all the way back off the green. Maybe you’ll have a pitch of 30-40 yards, and that’s not very normal on the courses we (usually) play on, but kind of interesting.”
Feng would love to compete at Tokyo 2020, earning a chance of going two spots better than her bronze medal in Rio.
“My plan now is just to the Olympics next year,” said the nine-times LPGA winner.
“I don’t know what I’m doing after that yet. I’m not saying for sure I’m retiring.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond)