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U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
For Shanshan Feng, Golf is a Good Walk Unspoiled June 5, 2021 | San Francisco, Calif. By Ron Sirak

Shanshan Feng's carefree attitude and immense talent has positioned her for a weekend run at The Olympic Club. (Kathryn Riley/USGA)

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Shanshan Feng doesn’t prowl a golf course, or stalk it. She strolls the fairways with casual ease, as if window-shopping in a mall. And what she picked out for herself on Friday at The Olympic Club was a snazzy little 70 that put her at 3-under-par 139 going into the weekend at the 76th U.S. Women’s Open.

The native of Guangzhou, China, is alone in fifth place through 36 holes, and her effort thus far earned her a spot in the third-to-last pairing on Saturday with two-time Women’s Open champion Inbee Park, starting at 5:13 p.m. EDT. Park and Feng have already seen a lot of each other, having played together on Thursday and Friday with fellow major champion Lydia Ko.

Feng’s Friday round was mostly effortless as she hit every fairway on her opening nine holes. And when she was challenged, it was not an annoying inconvenience but rather a “whatever” moment she efficiently dismissed – like the 20-foot par saving putt on her ninth hole and the up-and-down from a greenside bunker to save another par on the next hole.

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Her only missteps were three bogeys in four holes beginning on her 12th hole, mistakes that were erased when she finished her round birdie-birdie.

“I started the round very well, but then after I made the turn I just missed a few fairways, like I expect the others will do,” she said casually. “I just made a few bogeys in the middle. But I think what I did really well was when I had two holes left, I was like 1 over for the day, and before the round started I told myself my goal was to shoot red numbers every day. I was like, ‘If I can birdie both of the last two holes, I can still shoot a red number,’ and that's what I did, so I'm very happy about that.”

Feng not only hit the ball straight off the tee, she perfectly maneuvered her way around the brilliantly canted fairways of The Olympic Club, finding the spots that offered the most desirable angles to the green for her approach shots. She plays quickly, moves quietly and is more likely than not to greet a disappointing shot with a smile and a wag of her head and not an outburst of anger.

Feng, 31, has been a consistent winner since joining the LPGA in 2008, with 10 titles and the bronze medal for China at the 2016 Olympic Games. Her aforementioned major came at the 2012 Women’s PGA, although she has finished in the top 10 in majors 17 times, including T-4 in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open, T-9 in 2013 and T-5 in 2017, when she led each of the first three days at Trump National.

“I'm very happy to be here for sure, and also I'm very happy to be paired with Inbee and Lydia for the first two days,” she said. “I mean, we were the three medalists at the Olympics, so it kind of reminded me a little bit about 2016 in Rio.”

Feng’s casual attitude is at times mistaken for a lack of desire. She famously doesn’t like to practice and created a bit of a controversy last weekend when she conceded her third-place match in the Bank of Hope Match Play in Las Vegas in order to rest for the U.S. Women’s Open. Feng played 112 holes over five days in nearly 100-degree heat, more than anyone in the tournament. On Saturday alone she played 41 holes and said she was so tired she considered quitting during her match.

“I think I made the right decision because I'm really, really tired after finishing six rounds in five days, let's say four and a half days,” Feng said after conceding. “If I play 18 more, I don't know how I will do. I might fall over on the course. If I got in the top two, of course, yes, I would play until I fall down on the course. But I lost the match in the morning.”

Feng, who took all of 2020 off from competition because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is still rounding back into championship form. What she remembered while she was gone is how much she loves the game.

“I really enjoyed the whole time on the course,” she said about her two rounds at Olympic. “I think that's what I've done pretty well after the long, long break that I took. This time coming back, I think mentally I'm like way better. I'm really enjoying it again, just like my first few years on the Tour. So overall, I think I'm doing fine, and just keep doing the same thing.”

Now, Feng finds herself going into Saturday at the U.S. Women’s Open very much in contention.

“I've had one time that I was leading after three rounds, so I've had some success here but not like winning yet,” Feng said. “I just want to relax and enjoy the next 36 holes on the course, especially on The Olympic Club, because other than the U.S. Open, when will we have a chance to play The Olympic Club? I'm trying to enjoy it.”

Saturday will be another day of window shopping for the laid-back Feng. And who knows, on Sunday she might pick up something really special for herself.

Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.

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