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Shanshan Feng puts on happy face, wins Volvik Championship

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Shanshan Feng poses with the championship trophy after winning the LPGA Volvik Championship at Travis Pointe Country Club in Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor – Shanshan Feng likes to smile. A lot.

Smiling has made golf more enjoyable for her, and that was on display during her final round of the LPGA Volvik Championship on Sunday at Travis Pointe Country Club. Feng had two bogeys in the final three holes but was able to maintain a one-stroke lead, enough for her to win for the first time this season.

Feng, the seventh-ranked player in the world, shot 68 Sunday, in a final round that was moved up several hours because of the threat of storms. Minjee Lee tied for second with Sung Hyun Park.

Lee surged on Sunday and shot 65 with eight birdies and one bogey. After starting the final round tied for sixth, Lee finished second. After seeing the leaderboard on 16, she realized she had to do something to close the gap with Feng. She went for it on 18, trying to reach in two, but an errant shot left her with a challenging wedge to the green. Lee made par on the final hole, a stroke behind.

VOLVIK CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL SCORES

Feng, a six-time winner last season, won for the first time in the U.S. since 2013. She was coming off a 10th last week at the Kingsmill Championship.

After winning the bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, she had back-to-back victories. She reminded herself after the Rio Games that smiling was always a big part of her game. She decided to smile more.

“When I just got on the tour when I was a rookie, I mean, I was smiling all the time,” she said. “People were telling me that I was maybe the one that was smiling the most on and off the course. I think my personality is very happy, funny person, so I think that’s good. That helps me to play well.”

But Feng wasn’t smiling that much at the start of this season. She had taken a five-week break before the start of the season and didn’t touch her clubs. Feng had a sluggish start, missing a cut and recording only one top-10 finish in her first five tournaments.

“I think this year maybe I was a little bit off,” she said. “I tried to play well too much, but I think now I’m back, I’m smiling. Hopefully I was smiling (today) on TV. When people watch TV (the golfers) have like poker faces, but I do think I’m smiling on the course. I’m enjoying it.”

Feng does not look at the scoreboard until the end of the tournament. By the final hole, she had no idea what any other golfers, beyond her threesome, were doing.

“I was assuming maybe somebody in front of me maybe would have a super-low round and maybe would catch me,” Feng said. “So I had no idea. I was just focusing on my own game and own plan.”

She got her first bogey in the last two rounds on the par-3 16th hole when her putt lipped out. She made par on 17 and had a two-stroke lead going into 18.

“On 18 I didn’t feel nervous at all,” she said. “I just misjudged the rough. And then after the second chip and my ball got on the green, I actually looked at the leaderboard because I asked my caddie, ‘Is it OK?’ My caddie said, ‘Oh, it’s fine.’ Then I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I’ve got two-putt to win,’ and I looked at the leaderboard and I was winning by two, so I didn’t have pressure on the last putt.”

Feng’s goal now is to show she can win regularly in the U.S.

“Very happy that I can actually prove to the fans in the U.S. that I can actually win here,” she said. “I think my game’s always good but just didn’t win too many times in the U.S. But I think overall I’ve been a very consistent player and I’ve had many, many top-5s, top-10s in my career so far, but I want to win more. I think that’s why I actually started to win more tournaments, because I don’t want to just make top-10s, I want to win tournaments.”

She is taking the week off to rest. Feng said she will call her parents in China and then she plans to shop. What will she buy?

“I don’t know yet, but that was a big check,” she said smiling, of course, after receiving the $195,000 winner’s check. “I can buy something, but I’m not going to spend it all.”