PITTSFORD, N.Y.— Shanshan Feng’s friends like to call her Jenny. They might start calling her champ.
The 22 year-old Feng, the only player from mainland China on the LPGA Tour, won the LPGA Championship on Sunday to become the first Chinese player to win an LPGA Tour title and a major event, closing with a 5-under 67 for a two-stroke victory.
“I still can’t believe it,” Feng said. “I think after this week it’s going to give me a lot more confidence. I believe I can win again in the future, and hopefully it’s going to help golf in China because I want to be ... like a model that the other juniors can follow my steps.”
Feng had the lowest round of the tournament at the right time and finished at 6-under 282.
Stacy Lewis, bidding to win her third straight stroke-play event on the LPGA Tour, shot a 70 to tie for second with Mika Miyazato, Suzann Pettersen and third-round leader Eun-Hee Ji. Miyazato shot 69, Pettersen 70 and Ji 72.
Karrie Webb, who started the day one shot behind Ji, had a 72 to finish at 3 under. Little-known Gerina Piller, a star in college at UTEP, and Ai Miyazato each shot 68 to also finish at 3 under.
Paula Creamer had a 71, and Giulia Sergas and Inbee Park shot 72 to finish another shot back.
Defending champion Yani Tseng of Taiwan had a closing 76 and was 13 over in a tournament she won a year ago by 10 shots.
Feng, who began the day three shots behind Ji, had a bogey-free round to etch her name in the record books, and her fourth top 10 of the year moved her to fifth in the world.
“For me, I never thought, ‘I must win.’ I knew I was three behind (at the start), so I knew I had a chance,” said Feng, who began playing golf at age 10. “I was focusing on very shot. If I win, I win. If I don’t, I don’t. It just worked out.”
Feng, who started playing golf at the age of 10 and credits her father Feng Xiong and coach Gary Gilchrist for much of her success, joined a growing list players who have broken through for their first career victory at the LPGA Championship. Anna Nordqvist in 2008 and Tseng in 2009 were the last two of the seven who have accomplished the feat.
“You knew it was coming at some point. I’m surprised she hasn’t won out here,” said Lewis, who moves to second in the world rankings behind Tseng. “She went out and won it. The goal was to go post a low number. That’s what everybody was trying to do.”
Over the first three days, Ji and Webb had notched the lowest score — 68 — on the Locust Hill Country Club course, its narrow fairways and long, thick rough providing a challenge worthy of a major.
Tseng last year and Cristie Kerr in 2010 won this tournament with 19-under scores, Kerr by a record 12 shots and Tseng by 10. With difficult conditions over the first three days, nobody was able to break away, and only 13 players began the day under par.
But under a blue sky with only the hint of a breeze, a breakthrough by somebody seemed likely. That it ended up being the only player from China with an LPGA card and no career wins didn’t seem likely.
“Obviously, it means a lot for me because this is my fifth year on the tour,” Feng said. “I was sad and I was even thinking, ‘Can I win again?’ I won twice on the Japanese tour last year and it helped a lot. It helped me to have confidence again. Now, I know I can win again.”
Feng made five birdies, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and reaching 16 greens in regulation. She even laughed with her caddie after barely missing a birdie putt at No. 16, probably because she didn’t know she was nursing a one-shot lead.
“I wasn’t looking at the scoreboard,” Feng said. “I was on 18th green and I looked at the board and I was leading. I couldn’t believe it.”
Feng didn’t allow an errant drive into a fairway bunker at the par-5 17th hole get her down. She hit her third shot 12 feet from the pin and made birdie for a two-shot lead that nobody challenged. She closed with a par, hitting her drive right down the middle of the fairway on one of the most difficult scoring holes on the course.
Unfazed when her second shot found rough at the edge of the green, she chipped inside 2 feet and made par to secure the victory.
“There was nobody with us before 16,” Feng said. “Then on 17 at least 10 media people were around us. ‘OK, maybe I have a chance to win.’ After I chipped [at 18], I looked at the board, so I knew I was leading.”
The 26 year-old Ji is no stranger to Locust Hill, having captured her first career LPGA Tour victory here in the 2008 Wegmans LPGA, when the Rochester stop was a regular tour event.
She had eight pars and a bogey on the front side and a bogey at 10 dropped her three shots behind the leaders. She rallied on the back side with birdies at Nos. 13, 15, and 16 but couldn’t keep it going over the final two holes.
Even with the gallery rooting hard, Creamer, a crowd favorite, was dreading this tournament because of the death in March of her 94 year-old grandfather, Tom, her biggest fan. She dropped one shot on the front nine and managed only one birdie on the back side.
Pettersen appeared set to take charge after four birdies on the front nine. The long-hitting Norwegian star clenched her right fist and pulled her arm back in celebration as she gained sole possession of the lead at 5 under with a birdie at No. 8.
Feng had two birdies over her first six holes to move one shot behind and nearly took the outright lead at the eighth hole. But her eagle try slid just past the hole.
A birdie by Feng at No. 12 moved her into a tie with Pettersen and the little-known Piller, who had only one top-10 finish since her rookie year two years ago.
Piller started the day at 1 over, five shots off the lead, but quickly made her way up the leaderboard with four birdies on the front side. Birdies at Nos. 11, 14 and 16 made her 9 under through a 19-hole stretch and moved her into a tie for the lead at 5 under.
But Piller found trouble at par-5 17th, which she eagled Saturday to begin her steady rise. She drove under a tree into the thick rough and her punch shot out clipped some leaves and she dropped two shots when her short bogey putt slid just past the cup.
Pettersen landed in the rough on two straight shots at No. 13, chipped well past the pin and settled for bogey to fall one shot behind Feng. Pettersen drove the rough again at the 14th hole and again made bogey to fall two shots behind and never recovered.
Webb birdied No. 11 to reach 4 under again but gave it right back on the next hole when she drove into the rough and couldn’t salvage par. Webb birdied Nos. 16 and 17, but like Ji her rush came too late and Feng had that breakthrough victory.
“I am so excited right now,” she said. “I did it! I don’t know how to celebrate. It happened too soon. I’m going to miss my flight tomorrow. I might just go home. Who knows? I want to see my parents. I’m sure they want to see me.”
More than likely.