Shanshan Feng won the CME Group Titleholders in Naples, Florida, at the Tiburon Golf Club by beating Gerina Piller [my years-long dark horse pick] by one stroke. And she did it in a very interesting way. She did it by not putting any pressure on herself by declaring hard and fast goals.
She arrived at this strategy the way most lessons are learned, the hard way. In this case, it was at the Reignwood LPGA Classic in Beijing that she won just last month:
When I was in Beijing I was actually leading after three days, but the first hole on the final round Stacy [Lewis] made a birdie, so we were even. Then like maybe after four holes she was already like 1 up and then I never caught her until the last hole. So I was, you know, always behind. I was always like 1 shot or 2 shots, so I really, really, really wanted to catch up. But then that was why I missed some putts.
I found it very interesting that someone who looks so calm on the golf course would be so affected by the pressure of the moment that her legs would literally shake:
Then at the last hole I just got a little lucky as I didn’t expect myself to hit the second shot [close], had like a three‑foot putt left for winning the tournament. I was really, really nervous on that last putt. I felt like I could miss it because my legs started to shake.
One of the ingredients of Sunday’s win was that she didn’t have the leg-shaking hometown fans adding pressure to three-foot putts. She also really liked the course but didn’t expect to win:
You know, it’s a little different playing at hometown in front of all the people at home and playing in the States. Of course I didn’t get too many fans, you know, rooting for me this week, but I really like this course and I didn’t think I was going to win before I started the final round today.
And then a familiar progression began:
I didn’t have much pressure until I was 4‑under through 6. So I knew I was up there, I had a chance, and then I started to maybe think too much, so I couldn’t make putts like in the middle of the round. I missed so many birdie chances.
And then until — I mean, finally on the 15th hole I made a birdie putt, so I think that was when I actually got the pressure off. Then I made one more birdie on the 17th and that was it.
Shanshan also shared a humorous back-story that she thinks might have been the key to her success. It was nice to discover that she has a charming sense of humor:
I had dinner with Inbee [Park] and So Yeon Ryu Thursday night of the week in China. We went out to the city of Beijing. We had Beijing duck. We had really, really good food. Then after that I shot two days 9‑under in a row and I finally won a tournament.
And this week I went to So Yeon’s house for barbecue and Inbee was there, too. I think we went maybe on Tuesday or Wednesday and I won this tournament. So maybe now it’s a secret, I shouldn’t tell anybody. But I don’t know, I think from now on every week I’m going to call them and say, hey, can we have dinner together?
But why does she think they would so willingly surrender victories to her?
I don’t know. But Inbee’s won six this year and I’ve only won two, so maybe it’s okay.
But perhaps the real key to her victories was this jewel she shared. It’s very consistent with what Inbee Park said in her recent interview about starting to play better when she decided to just go for happiness:
I do think that tour life is not only about tour, it’s also life. So I do think that I need to enjoy my tour life and I’m always a happy person, so it doesn’t really matter how I’m doing, I still want to be happy.
And so she would set goals that she could live with, goals that wouldn’t add more pressure than standing over a three-foot putt to win already does:
Usually like if I set goals for the tournaments, I would set like a goal that I feel comfortable with it. A lot of people set a goal that, you know, they want like, how to say, they set a goal as winning or Top 3, but I like to set a goal maybe like Top 5. Like this week I was actually thinking Top 10, so I felt comfortable with my goal and even — obviously if I can get better than my goal I would go for it. But 10th place is not bad for me, so there is no reason that I would get upset.
But she doesn’t just set goals of where she would be happy finishing, she also sets scoring goals. With Gerina breathing down her neck on 18, that came in very handy:
Before this round started I didn’t set a goal as winning, but I did set a goal like for score. I wanted myself to get to 15‑under. So it doesn’t matter if I win or not, if I get to 15‑under I’m happy, and I did it.
So it didn’t really matter how Gerina was doing on the last hole, I still thought I played well today.
Tomorrow I’ll have something to say about Gerina’s breakthrough round.