Feng part of burgeoning group of Chinese athletes

Jim Ruppert

The final LPGA State Farm Classic leaderboard looked like a veritable League of Nations with four players from Korea, five from the United States, one from Taiwan and one from mainland China taking the first 11 places.

And while we have become accustomed to the Asian dominance on the women's tour, a new country - literally - was heard from in the final round. The most populace country in all of Asia had a horse in the race.

Shanshan "Jenny" Feng, who is from Guangzhou, China, had the low round of the day Sunday, a 9-under-par 63. That's an LPGA best for the 19-year-old Feng and tied for the second-lowest round at Panther Creek Country Club this weekend. She won $71,887 and moved up 30 spots on the LPGA money list to No. 55 with $158,863. That's just about $1,000 less than Natalie Gulbis has won on the tour this year.

"I'm feeling very good now because last week I broke my low score (from 67 to 64)," Feng said after her round Sunday. "And then today I made it to 63, so I broke it again."

Feng is the first non-exempt LPGA player from China. She is part of a burgeoning group of Chinese athletes who seem intent on changing Chinese culture.

In the July 18 edition of "Golf World" magazine, Ron Sirak writes:

"But the real key to the growth of golf in China will be the competitive aspect. The success on the world stage of men and women pros from Korea, Japan and Taiwan has wounded the regional pride of the economic giant of Asia.

"All indications are the China Golf Association will be under increased pressure after the Olympics (scheduled for next month in Beijing) to produce more world-class players."

Feng is a good start in that direction for China. She began the day at 7-under par after rounds of 70-70-69. But once she got going, she went from also-ran to contender.

"Actually, I didn't think about it," Feng said when asked her objectives for the day. "I didn't think I would have a chance to win today. It was 11 strokes between the leader and me.

"I thought I was playing well, and I didn't think about winning. I just wanted to get a good score, put me in a good place, that's all."

The State Farm Classic was Feng's 16th event on the tour. Most of her performances were uneventful - a tie for 39th at the Safeway International, a tie for 58th at the McDonald's LPGA Championship, a tie for 66th at the Wegmans LPGA. But last week at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, she finished fourth. At the State Farm Classic, she tied for fourth.

"At the beginning of this year, I didn't have any experience about being on the tour," Feng said. "So I wasn't playing very well at the beginning, but it got better after the McDonald's. I made the cut at McDonald's, so I got more confident. And I think it is getting better and better."

In 2004, the Chinese imposed a moratorium on building golf courses. Insiders called it a political ploy to appease protesting farmers who had land confiscated. Little by little, golf course construction has returned to China.

"China is a culture of staggering creativity that for thousands of years has been hidden behind walls, both physical and ideological," Sirak wrote. "The world is a better place if those walls are removed. Perhaps golf can help."

Feng would like to do her part.

"There are not too many people to play golf yet in China," she said. "Although the population is China is very big, I think there will be more people playing. I think more and children, they will play and then more and more courses will be built.”

The Korean golfers talk with such reverence of Se Ri Pak, the first South Korean to be inducted into the LPGA Tour and World Golf halls of fame. Might Feng someday be China's answer to Se Ri Pak?

"It is a little bit of pressure, you know, because you are the only one," she said. "Everyone is watching you.

"I think I am still young, so I have more faith that I can grow up and then I think I can get better. So I think in my mind, I feel like if get better, then more and more people would play golf and golf will get better."

Jim Ruppert can be reached at 788-1549 or