Photo by Scott Hooker
Shanshan Feng won her first major at the Wegmans LPGA Championship at Locust Hill last Sunday.
Feng puts on quite a show in front of small gallery
I’m sitting inside the Staples’ Media Center shortly after Shanshan Feng won her first major at the Wegmans LPGA Championship at Locust Hill last Sunday.
Quite frankly, I’m a little surprised, mostly because the room itself, where the charismatic golfer from mainland China is holding her press conference, is about half full.
The lack of support from the fans and now the media shouldn’t come to much surprise to Feng, who dealt with one of the smaller crowds throughout much of the course of the weekend – at least until it became apparent that she was going to win.
I’ll admit, even I didn’t see her play much. And I’m sure my reason for not watching much of Shanshan Feng collided with the reasons of the rest of the fans at the LPGA: Shanshan Feng was a no name.
The LPGA is a league that hasn’t exactly been one that makes boatloads of money. It’s not an event that is going to sell thousands and thousands of tickets to golf fans, who will pack the course wall-to-wall like her PGA counterpart.
The LPGA doesn’t feature incredibly famous names, like Woods or Mickelson. And while commissioner Michael Whan has made grounds to improve the status of the league, it still hasn’t reached the level of publicity and marketing of other women’s sports like, say, the Women’s Tennis Association.
Even the grand prize money reflected on the declining sales for the LPGA, especially as we look on to lucrative sports contracts and earnings. Feng was the lone winner in one of the hardest stops on the LPGA Tour; she became the first person from mainland China to win an LPGA major, and her prize money of $375,000 was approximated to what Luke Donald won for his sixth-place finish at the Players Championship.
This isn’t to take away Feng’s incredible achievement. She played excellent golf for four days, just edging out with a six under par finish — which placed her first over a field of golfers who, at any point during the week, could have snuck in and stole the trophy.
It really was anyone’s game. But the unfortunate thing for Feng is that much of the crowd that packed the roughs for Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis or Michelle Wie (the later two of who didn’t even make the cut) had gone home by the time Feng sunk her last putt.
What made Shanshan Feng a less interesting winner than Paula Creamer, who led thousands of followers that watched her every stroke, even after it was clear that she didn’t have enough to win the major? What didn’t Feng have that kept the crowds from boarding the buses back to MCC? My best guess was that she was an unknown, but at the same time, the bleachers were filled to the brim the day Shaun Micheel took the PGA Championship Crown at Oak Hill in 2003.
What the LPGA doesn’t have is a single, dominating, marketable star, and they haven’t since Annika Sörenstam retired at the age of 38. Sörenstam, of course, was a superstar on the links, winning 72 stops on the Tour, including 10 majors.
It appears right now that the LPGA is in a bit of rut, as the fans and the media try to find the next big thing.
For now, the fans are nominating California’s Paula Creamer, who is a huge fan favorite in Rochester, likely because she is always in the running for the Wegmans LPGA Championship, but never able to actually seal the deal.
Rochesterians root for her, and based on her number of Twitter followers, LPGA fans as a whole root for her. Creamer is bursting with potential: she is young, talented and supports a small resume. But until Creamer finally becomes the beast she is destined to be, the LPGA is stuck on pause.
Anybody who sat in Shanshan Feng’s press conference, or watched her accept the trophy during the closing ceremonies knows that she came off very likable and humble winner. She has bold aspirations of being China’s Yani Tseng, someone who can market and become a face for golf in her native grounds.
But unfortunately, it’s going to take more than just one major win to allow her to do that for America, a country that desperately needs a Tiger Woods equivalent as soon as it can find one.