Shanshan Feng has gone from a niche-sport standout to a star in China.
Feng gained more acclaim in her homeland with her third-place finish at the Olympics this summer than she did becoming the first Chinese player to win a major championship.
That’s what an Olympic bronze medal has meant.
With a run up the leaderboard Saturday at the Sime Darby Malaysia, Feng is in position to build on the momentum she created with her success in Rio de Janeiro. She had the round of the day going Saturday at TPC Kuala Lumpur before darkness suspended action with Feng playing the 18th hole.
At 7-under through 17 holes in the third round, Feng topped the leaderboard when play was halted. At 13 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Anna Nordqvist, who has three holes left to play, and two ahead of Amy Yang, who also has three holes to play.
Nicknamed “Jenny Money,” the colorful Feng was among the athletes receiving a hero’s welcome upon returning to China from Rio de Janeiro. She made news telling China president Xi Jinping that he was “so handsome” during the Chinese Olympic contingent’s official governmental reception.
“Shanshan is a household name in China now,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said.
Feng has been on fire since Rio, giving herself chances to win every LPGA event she has played since then. In four starts, she has finished 4th, T-4, 2nd and T-3.
“I didn’t set any goals coming into this week, but I know that recently I’ve been playing pretty well,” Feng said. “Every week, I know that I actually get pretty close to winning. I know that my record here is really good in Malaysia, and I’ve won here before.”
Feng won the LPGA Championship in 2012 and is seeking her fifth overall LPGA title this week. She won the Sime Darby two years ago and finished second last year.
“Coming back here, I have so many good memories that I’m really relaxed and really enjoying the week,” Feng said. “Of course, I think that really helps me to bring out my ‘A’ game.”