John Niyo and Matt Charboneau preview the LPGA and PGA Champions events, which wrap up in Michigan today.
If past performance means anything, this week could be the start of big things for Shanshan Feng.
The second-ranked golfer in the world is back at Travis Pointe Country Club in Ann Arbor this week to defend her title at the Volvik Championship, one that ignited her 2017 season and eventually saw her become the top-ranked golfer in the world.
“I think last year before I played the Volvik Championship, I mean, I wasn't doing very well and I think that was like a breaking point for me last year,” Feng said Tuesday. “And because I won here, I finally started to feel more confidence and comfortable, and then that actually gave me like extra confidence because before that I only won one time in the U.S. No, sorry, I just won two times in the U.S.
“So all of my nine wins on the LPGA, I win most of them in Asia, so I really want to prove that I can win in the U.S., too. So last year the victory here was very important to me.”
That confidence led to a remarkable close to the 2017 season as won back-to-back tournaments in November and added six more top-10 finishes.
After winning the Blue Bay LPGA on Hainan Island, China, she ascended to the top ranking in the world, becoming the first player from China, male or female, to sit at the top of the world golf rankings.
However, things weren’t exactly simple with the No. 1 ranking. Even with four more top-10 finishes this season, Feng relinquished the top spot in late April to Inbee Park.
“I did feel a little pressure when I was No. 1 because every week people remind you, like, ‘Oh, you're No. 1. What's your goal this week? Are you going to win this week? What are you going to do?’” Feng said. “And I'm like, you know what, I never push myself like so hard. I think because of that, I think maybe sometimes I started to feel like having more pressure on the course and then started to actually feel a little bit nervous when I have chances to win.
“So, I'm actually pretty happy that now I'm not No. 1, so I'm No. 2, I'm the one that is chasing the others again. So now I'm feeling more confident and more comfortable, and I think I can bring out the real Shanshan now.”
The real Shanshan was on display last year at Travis Pointe as she shot 68-67-66-68—269 to beat Minjee Lee and Sung Hyun Park by one stroke.
She hasn’t played since late April, but she’s feeling confident she’ll regain the winning touch she had a year ago, following the same pattern from 2017.
“I think usually at the beginning of the year I just don't set any goals,” Feng said. “I'm like, you know, just go out there and enjoy and try to get more and more comfortable on the course. I don't really think about trying to win, and then now I think I should be thinking like, ‘You know, maybe I'll have a chance to win every week, and then when I actually have a chance on the weekend, I should go for it.’ So I became more and more aggressive on the course, so I think that's what really helped.”
And coming off back-to-back top-10 finishes, it all seems to be coming together.
“You know, for myself, I think I've been playing pretty well, pretty consistent, so I think I'm looking for a break through this year,” Feng said. “This week I played so well last year, and coming back I just found so many good memories on the course and so hopefully I'll have a good week this week.”
LPGA Volvik Championship
Where: Travis Pointe Country Club, Ann Arbor
TV: 7-9 p.m. Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel (tape delay); 3-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Golf Channel
Details: Yardage: 6,734. Par: 72. Purse: $1.3 million. Winner’s share: $195,000.
Defending champion: Shanshan Feng.
Notes: Jutanugarn is the only player who started and made the cut in all 12 events on the LPGA Tour schedule this year. Henderson is taking this week off. Jutanugarn is in the field at the Volvik Championship. … Inbee Park went home to South Korea and won the Doosnam Match Play Championship on the Korean LPGA Tour last week. … Jutanugarn and Brooke Henderson are the only two players to have won on the LPGA Tour in each of the last three seasons. … Through 12 events this year, the LPGA Tour does not have a multiple winner. It’s the second straight year the LPGA has gone this deep into the season with different winners each week. … The tournament is in its third year. It is the first of two LPGA events in Michigan in a span of four weeks. The U.S. Women’s Open, the second major of the LPGA Tour, is next week at Shoal Creek in Alabama.