China’s first major championship winner Shanshan Feng has become an Omega brand ambassador and will make her tournament debut at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters 2012. She met the media to discuss her hopes for the tournament.
We'd like to welcome Shanshan Feng, China's first major championship winner this year. In making your first visit to Dubai, can you start by talking about your experiences so far.
SHANSHAN FENG: Well, I mean, I got here Saturday night, I believe, like actually early Sunday morning, so I didn't have time to really walk around Dubai yet.
But I played nine holes yesterday. I really love the course. I think it's kind of different. It's a little different than the other courses. It's like a mixture of Asian courses and maybe European courses. I really like it and I think it's a good course to me. I'm kind of a longer player and I like the greens, too, they are really fast.
Q. Why don't you start with, what has been a dream year for you, up to No. 6 in the ranking, winning; why don't you start with your reflections in the season and what do you hope to achieve here in Dubai this week?
SHANSHAN FENG: First of all, I would say I've had a really great season so far. You know, I actually had a very good beginning of the year, because I started my season in Thailand, and I had three straight top 5s on the LPGA. That gave me a lot of confidence, because last year, although I won on the Japanese, I didn't do that well on the LPGA.
So that really gave me confidence in America, and then I started to, you know, do better and better and I won in Japan, and then after two weeks, I won a major. That major win was like ‑‑ it was like unbelievable. Like after I finished, I didn't even know I was leading by two.
Now, I have a habit, I don't look at the scoreboard, the leaderboard during the round. I always only look after I finish 18 holes. So I didn't even know how important that shot was. But good thing I made it.
And I'm really happy that I won the Japan Open, after all. It's like one of the majors on the Japanese Tour. I would say it feels really good after I won all the tournaments, and it makes me feel like a star. So now if I go everywhere else, a lot of people recognize me, not only in China but in America and Japan, also.
But I would say I still have space to improve and hope I can do even better. I would say this week, it's my second to last tournament this season, so I'm not going to give myself too much pressure, so my goal would be maybe Top‑5. Just try my best.
Q. What difference has winning a major, what difference has that done for your game or your confidence, winning so early?
SHANSHAN FENG: Well, I mean, it's my fifth year this year on the LPGA. So I would say this is not an early win because I have four years without a win after I turned pro. Because I turned pro in 2008, and then since then, I didn't have a win until I would say August last year in Japan.
So I really had a long time that I lost my confidence because I won so many times when I was a junior and amateur, and then I just kind of lost the feeling, like it's like how to win; and I'm like, can I win again.
So that win in Japan last year really helped, so I believe now as a pro I can win. Starting from there, and until now, is maybe just a little more than a year, and I've won seven tournaments. So I would say that win last year, that was really important.
Q. Can you give us an idea of what is happening that there are so many young stars coming out of China?
SHANSHAN FENG: I think there are more and more people ‑‑ first of all, golf is picking up in China. There are more and more people starting to play golf. And you know, maybe when I just started, I was the youngest ever ‑‑ not ever, but I was the youngest in the competitions. When I was playing the Amateur tournaments, when I was 13, the others were like over 20. So we really have like a gap between maybe from 10 to like 20.
But right now, I think started maybe from ten years ago, started to be more and more people picking up, and more and more kids that are interested at golf. So more and more people try to be a player instead of just playing as a hobby.
And you know, I think Asians are really good at these small, controlling things. We see Koreans and the Japanese, they are doing so well, and I believe that Chinese can. So I'm really happy to see so many young players that they are doing so well, and just yesterday, I think there was another girl that she qualified for the LPGA from Mainland China. I think there are a lot more that are going to be on all the tours.
Q. Do you feel like a resounding favorite coming into this event, because you're the highest‑ranked player coming in; do you feel like you should come in and own the competition?
SHANSHAN FENG: Well, like I just said, you know, I don't want to give myself too much pressure.
This is actually the first tournament that I play ‑‑ I would say the first European event, like not co‑sanctioned with the LPGA, the first one after I became a member of the LET. I don't really know how the LET is, but I know there are a lot of strong players.
So you know, like I said, just Top‑5, that's my goal. I don't, you know, think about it too much, but of course I'll try to play my best and focus on every shot. That's it.
Q. Can you give an example how your profile has risen in China? Can you give an example of what it's like?
SHANSHAN FENG: I would say before I really won a major, I was just like somebody walking on the street. I can have like a hamburger in my hand and like a coke in my hand and I can eat on the street. It's like nobody would recognize me.
But I would say after I won the major, even though golf is still not that popular in China yet, if I'm in the airport and I'm in the restaurant, but somebody would still recognize me, sometimes they come up and they say, hey, play better or sometimes I hear like people they are talking ‑‑ (whispering) ‑‑ or something like that. That's pretty funny. (Laughter) that's a really good experience about it.
Q. In terms of golf in China, winning that major, what do you think your win has done for golf in China, and do you see yourself now kind of promoting the women's game in China and for Chinese abroad?
SHANSHAN FENG: First of all, I think Lena is a great athlete. I think we are the only two persons from Mainland China winning majors. I know how hard it is. I would say for me, it really helped Chinese tennis a lot. But golf is right now in a different situation right now, because it just got back in the Olympics and they are starting from 2016, and I would say in China, we focus more on the sports that are in the Olympics.
Because now, we have the chance to prove that, you know, golf is ‑‑ Chinese can be good in golf and we can get medals on golf. And then that way, if we do it, we can show the Chinese people and maybe they can change their attitude. Right now, I would say the image of golf in China is right now a little negative because it's kind of all about expenses, like expensive and it's a game of rich people and using a lot of land. So we have to show them that it's worth it.
Q. Have you ever met Jack Nicklaus? And who else was your influence growing up, and then as a professional, you meet and hear about all the other players?
SHANSHAN FENG: I have never met Jack, I'm sorry. But I'm always hoping that I can meet him. I had a chance this year that I can go to London during the Olympic time I would meet him but I had a tournament that I had to go defend. But I'm sure if I have a chance I would really love to meet him sometime.
And you know, when I was growing up, I was always watching the LPGA tournaments on TV, and I think Karrie Webb was my idol at that time, when I was maybe 11, 10, when I just started, because I really like ‑‑ whenever she was playing, like bad or great, like she didn't show anything. She was so calm and she looked so confident and that was the way I wanted. So she was my idol.
And then 2007, I qualified for the LPGA, right, and then I got a chance to play with her in 2008. And so I said to Karrie, you are my idol when I was growing up. Karrie was like, you mean I'm so old ‑‑ and she was like, I'm just joking.
Even though they are stars, they are still so friendly, just as a person.
Q. And of the current crop of players, who are the ones that you admire most in, men's or women right now?
SHANSHAN FENG: I would say Yani. She's No. 1 in the world right now, and she is like a real close friend of mine and she's in my chasing target since maybe I was 13, when the first time I met her in America. You know, we were both 13 at the same time, but it was my first time to go to America to play a tournament, and she was the defending champion. So at the start, you know, I was so far like behind.
And then I always try to chase her and try to catch her. You know, I think we got a little closer, but still I need to work harder.
Q. What sports do you think fit the Chinese psyche more than golf, and do you think that golf will ever become popular despite the experience, despite the land?
SHANSHAN FENG: Well, of course, ping‑pong, table tennis, diving, badminton, and soccer, too, actually, and basketball. I would say for those sports that you don't need a lot of money. You can just join. You see them everywhere, you see like basketball everywhere. So I think it's easier for more people to pick it up.
But I know that a lot of people now, they are interested in playing golf and a lot of actually sports men after they retire, they all can play golf, so that tells me like how good golf is. So I believe, you know, there's one day, golf is going to be really popular.
Q. How many courses are cropping up in areas of China?
SHANSHAN FENG: I would say ‑‑ I'm from Guangzhou, and I believe in Guangzhou, I believe it's around 13, something like that. I think a lot of people are trying to build courses, but like I said, it takes a lot of land. So it's really hard.
Q. Chinese athletes do gain majority, fame, through the Olympics, so how big is Rio potentially for you?
SHANSHAN FENG: You know, I really want to go to the Olympics in 2016. You know, as a sportsman, I think the Olympics is the highest event, like high spectacle of sports that we have to go. I didn't have the chance, but because of Rio in 2016, I have the chance, and I would say I would be 27 at the time, and I would say I would be still playing. But hopefully I'll be at my best level at that time.
But first of all, I really want to play, and we know that it's only two spots from every country. So you know, I'll try my best to be in it, but if I see another two or three Chinese girls that they play even better than me, if they are picked, I'll be so happy because that means that Chinese golf is improving, is growing.
Q. Who are your closest friends on Tour and what do you like to do when you are not playing golf?
SHANSHAN FENG: I'm really good with all of the Taiwanese players, including Yani and Amy Hung, Candie Kung, Teresa Lu who used to play on the LPGA who is now playing on the Japanese Tour, because we all speak Mandarin. I think that's why we be so close. Of course, Yani is one of the best. I had some other friends, like Amy Yang from Korea.
But I think life on the LPGA is so friendly. Everybody sees each other like more than we see families, so we are really family, like a big family and everybody cheers each other along.
I'm so happy because yesterday when I was playing, I saw a lot of players from the LPGA and a lot of caddies, too. So I do feel like I'm playing on my home tour, so it's really good.
Q. Obviously the LPGA rankings are very much dominated by sort of South Korean lady golfers, Chinese golfers like yourself. Is there like a national rivalry and do you find it surprising that there are not more Americans; it is so dominated by Asian female golfers. Is it a surprise to you?
SHANSHAN FENG: No, I'm not surprised, because I think the reason why Asian women are really good at golf is because we kind of always have tough minds, like tough mental, and we work real hard. You know, in Asia, our parents would push us so hard, if we want to be a player and they push you so hard, like they watch you, they want you to practice like how many hours each day and they watch you when you practice. They are really strict.
But I think in other places like America or Europe, I think when you grow up, parents don't push you as much. So you know, I think we maybe spend more time when we are young. So you know, when we turn 18, we have already started playing golf for like ten years, over ten. So I think that helps. And always tough mental, it's very important, too.
And I think another thing is the body, our bodies are not very different. Like we are tall girls in Asia and in America they have short girls, too, so I think we can hit as far as the American girls, so I think that's why we are not worse than them. But for men, Asian guys are shorter and less power, and European or American guys can drive easily and maybe that's why we are different.