Golf: Top women's duo Feng Shanshan and Lexi Thompson fuelled by contrasting fires

(From left) Hong Kong's Tiffany Chan, China's Feng Shanshan, South Korea's Park In Bee and Ryu So Yeon, and the United States' Lexi Thompson getting ready to tee off at the HSBC Women’s World Championship on Thursday.
(From left) Hong Kong's Tiffany Chan, China's Feng Shanshan, South Korea's Park In Bee and Ryu So Yeon, and the United States' Lexi Thompson getting ready to tee off at the HSBC Women’s World Championship on Thursday.

Athletes draw inspiration from various sources. For Feng Shanshan, who ended last year as world No. 1 and is in her 16th straight week atop the standings, the desire to prove she is worthy of that tag has kept her on her toes.

She even cut short her two-month winter break and returned to training a week earlier to prepare for the season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic last month.

The 28-year-old, China's first world No. 1 in golf, said yesterday: "Normally I take a lot of time off during the off-season. But this year, I really wanted to keep up my good play, so I practised a little bit more than normal."

Adversity has proven to be an equally powerful force for Lexi Thompson. The American missed a two-foot putt on the final hole of last year's season-ending CME Group Tour Championship which eventually cost her the tournament, the No. 1 ranking and the Player of the Year award.

Unsurprisingly, both women are fired up for this week's HSBC Women's World Championship and seeking an early-season win.

Thompson, who last year had to deal with her mother Judy being diagnosed with uterine cancer and the death of her paternal grandmother Marie, said the setbacks on and off the course have only served to motivate her. Judy was given the all-clear in November.

Her 23-year-old daughter added: "I'm a lot happier and looking at how strong I was, coming into this year, I feel stronger than ever."

On that missed putt last November, she said: "The way I look at it is that I'm human and putts are going to be missed, and I still won the (Race to the CME Globe bonus of) US$1 million."

Thompson was tied-sixth at the LPGA's Bahamas event last month and tied-second at last week's tournament in Thailand. In seven rounds this campaign, she has yet to shoot over par.

Besides seeking her 10th Tour title, the world No. 2, whose only Major title is the 2014 Kraft Nabisco Championship, is also aiming to overtake Feng.

Thompson, who won twice last term, said: "Everybody wants to be No. 1. It's always our goal. But you have to take it one tournament at a time. All you can control is your game, your attitude and what you do out here. That's really all I'm trying to focus on."

A world-class field has gathered for the US$1.5 million (S$2 million) tournament at Sentosa Golf Club.

Besides Feng and Thompson, 17 other golfers in the top 20 are competing alongside all five reigning Major champions.

Feng's best result in the Republic was joint-second in 2012 when she lost in a play-off to Angela Stanford.

But that was before the Chinese star's game had taken off. She has won seven times worldwide in the past two years and has started her 2018 campaign in solid form.

She said: "Normally I'm a slow starter but, this year, this is already my third tournament and I've had two top-five finishes in my first two events. So really looking forward to playing here again."

Her ambition for 2017 had been to claim the No. 1 ranking and, with that objective achieved, she revealed new targets for herself.

Among her nine LPGA titles is a sole Major, the 2012 LPGA Championship, and Feng wants to double that tally. "I really, really, really want to win another Major because I think to be able to qualify for the Hall of Fame, I still need to win one more Major," she said.

Her second goal was more lighthearted but still revealed what fierce competitors these women golfers are.

"I've made four holes-in-one in pro-ams but never in a tournament. It always just misses, on the edge of the hole, but never falls in. So it will be great if I do it this year."

There are no prizes - in some tournaments a car is offered - at this week's HSBC event. Not that Feng needs any extra drive.