The quick-witted, cow-patterned pants wearing, self-professed foodie known as Shanshan Feng is taking her talents elsewhere.
This week, Feng confirmed what was first reported by GolfChannel.com more than a year ago at the 2021 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship; she will be officially retiring from competitive golf.
“I thought you were going to say you were so happy to hear I was going to retire!” Feng joked after being introduced during a Zoom call with golf media on Monday.
That’s Shanshan Feng. Always quick with a joke, nothing off limits in her dealings with those she meets, media notwithstanding.
During post-round interviews throughout her career, Feng would sometimes imitate her interviewer. At other times she’d lament that they hurry up with their questions so she could scurry off to discover what player dining had to offer.
Feng’s love for food she wore not on her sleeve but on her pants, as a pair of trousers featuring donuts and coffee were in the rotation along with the cow-patterned pair she’d don during tournament weeks.
“When I was on the tour, I was able to go to so many other countries that I could taste different food from different areas. That was the most exciting part,” Feng said. “I’m really missing it.”
Feng’s retirement decision is one that she says was several years in the making. Her initial plan was to play golf for 10 years, then retire. But when golf returned to the Olympics, that changed her plans and the 32-year-old chose to prolong her playing career in order to compete in the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games, which was further extended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Feng skipped the COVID-shortened 2020 LPGA season in order to avoid the headaches of weeks-long quarantines while commuting between China and the United States. After 16 months away, Feng returned to competition at the 2021 Chevron Championship, where she dazzled with an opening-round 67. Her interview afterward with Golf Channel went viral as she honestly described how she, like so many around the world, had spent the last year cooped up at home.
“After you get up in the morning you think about what you want for breakfast, and after breakfast you think about what you want to eat for lunch,” Feng said with a laugh. “And after lunch you think about what you want to eat for dinner. Pretty boring. But at the same time, I really enjoyed it.”
That’s Shanshan Feng. Always good for a laugh. But funny business aside, she has made a serious impact on the game. Particularly in China.
In 2008, Feng became the first player from China to qualify for the LPGA at age 18 as she earned her card in her first attempt at what was formerly qualifying school. In 2016, she made history once more as the first Chinese player, male or female, to win one of golf’s major championships when she captured the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. In 2016, she became the first from China to represent her country in golf at the Olympic Games in Rio, where she won the bronze medal. The honor earned Feng an opportunity to meet Chinese president Xi Jinping, whom she recalled flirting with as he was introduced to the Olympic contingent.
“When it came to my turn, I was like, ‘President, you’re so handsome,’” Feng said after the meeting in 2016. “The others didn’t say anything, but when it came to my turn ... I did say that.”
That’s Shanshan Feng.
In 2017, she made history once more as the first Chinese player to reach No. 1 in the world ranking and held the top spot for 23 weeks. That same year she opened the Shanshan Feng Golf Academy at Nansha Golf Club near her hometown of Guangzhou. Feng wanted to be able to provide juniors in China with the same type of instruction she was afforded with her longtime coach, Gary Gilchrist, in the United States, who partnered with Feng on the project.
Not unlike Se Ri Pak, who inspired a generation of young girls in Korea to take up the game with her victory at the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open, Feng was a pioneer who laid the path for future generations of young girls to play the game in China. While Feng was the first from her country to qualify for the LPGA in 2008, today she is one of eight.
“I always felt like I was the guinea pig because there was nobody ahead of me that I could follow their path," she said. "I had to really make out the path myself.”
While Feng says she didn't actively think about the impact she was having in China, saying it was too much pressure to carry with her while trying to compete on the golf course, it did drive her to improve.
“Even when I became the world No. 1, I thought I could be better," she said. "I wasn't perfect, even though perfection wasn’t what I was looking for, I always wanted to be better and better.”
Feng says she will walk away from competitive golf satisfied with what she achieved as she reached her goals of competing on the LPGA Tour, winning tournaments, competing and winning a medal in the Olympics, and reaching the world No. 1 ranking. Feng says holding the top spot in the world was the proudest achievement of her career. Feng’s only outstanding hope? To become a member of the Hall of Fame.
“I really gave my 100 percent during my whole career," she said. "Nothing to regret.”
In June 2021, Feng played for the final time on American soil at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. Upon missing the cut, she told GolfChannel.com that she hoped to play one final event closer to home before bidding farewell. But in July 2022, when the Buick LPGA Shanghai was canceled for a third consecutive year, Feng didn’t want to wait any longer to move on with her life.
Upon announcing her retirement, Feng revealed what her next moves look like.
Feng says in December 2021 she was approached by the Chinese national team to lead the women’s golf program. Since taking the job she says she hasn’t practiced at all. Her focus has shifted to enjoying her newfound free time. She relishes the opportunity to not have to follow a schedule and or have to set an alarm clock in the morning. And the self-professed foodie is excited to have a chance to eat what she wants, when she wants.
“I miss the buffalo wings, I miss the pepperoni pizza,” Feng said as the Zoom call drew to a close around dinner time in China. “Sorry, this is dinner time. I need to order a pizza after this.”
That’s Shanshan Feng. There’s been no one else like her on the LPGA. Her jokes, her cow pants, and her unabashed love of food will very much be missed as she transitions into her new life away from competitive golf.
Feng leaves a great void on the LPGA, and that is no laughing matter.