The best in women’s golf are in Los Angeles for the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open, which kicks off Thursday for four days. The world number one female golfer will be in the mix. Shanshan Feng, the first mainland Chinese golfer, male or female, to reach number one in the world.
CGTN’s May Lee had a chance to sit down with Feng in Los Angeles to talk about her stellar career so far and how it all started a bit by accident.
When Feng became the world number one female golfer in November of 2017, it couldn’t have been more poetic. She reached that goal by winning an LPGA tournament in China, her home country.
“Well, nothing has really changed. I’ve been in world top 10 for like 5 years already,” Feng said. “I was third and at the end of last year I was like ‘I’m already 27, if i want to give it a try I should try now.’ In the last year I really wanted to become world #1. Good thing is I finally did it before the season finished.”
It’s an incredible achievement for someone who really had no plans to become a professional golfer. Her father was captain of a junior golf team in Guangzhou, but Feng didn’t play. She just tagged along. But one day, the coach took notice.
“The coach was like, I see you all the time, why don’t you give it a try? I was like, I’ll give it a try. I tried to make one swing and coach said your swing is pretty good! Maybe you should start playing golf. And I asked my dad “Can I?” And dad was like ‘Yeah, why not?’ They were actually trying to make the older one professional but actually I became professional.”
Since that moment, Feng has seriously committed to becoming the best, with a healthy dose of fun and lightheartedness. On being compared to Chinese tennis star Li Na, she was modest.
“I very appreciate it if they put me and Li Na together,” Feng said, “But I would say what she’s done for Chinese tennis is way more than what I’ve done for Chinese golf so far. But I think it’s just because golf is not popular in China yet, but I think if Chinese golf can keep growing and growing, I can do anything I can do to support it.”
LPGA players like Feng are helping grow the sport both in the U.S. and globally.
TV viewership in the U.S. for LGPA tournaments hit a record last year and in 2018, the LPGA tour is being broadcast in 175 countries. At times, LPGA viewership and attendance surpasses the men’s PGA events.
“We really embraced the global impact of our sport. We didn’t try to hide from that even though there are some difficulties in going global. Embrace the fact that we play tournaments in 14, 15 countries. We embraced reaching out to different parts of the world from a PR and social media standpoint and other business standpoint and it really helped fuel our growth,” Jon Podany, chief commercial officer at LPGA said.
The LPGA’s continued global expansion will reach Shanghai in October when the association’s only tournament in mainland China takes place. No doubt that if Feng plays, she will attract huge crowds.