Could Hong Kong amateur Tiffany Chan really be in with an Olympic medal chance? China's top golfer Feng Shanshan reckons so
Modest Chan responds by saying major winner is ‘just being nice’
China’s best golfer, Feng Shanshan, knows what it takes to win at the highest level.
So when the country’s only major championship winner says Hong Kong amateur Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching has a medal chance at the women’s Olympic golf event, your ears prick up.
Feng practiced with Chan over the Olympic course on Monday, the day after Justin Rose won gold for Team GB.
Rose is reigning Hong Kong Open champion, Chan the title-holder in the women’s equivalent. It’s surely too much to hope they could both be gold medallists too, but Feng’s assessment will be a confidence boost for Chan ahead of Wednesday’s tee-off.
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“I played with Tiffany like when we were both junior players, when I was 16 or something like that,” said Feng, 27, world No 6 and a multi-millionaire, of Chan 22, No 518 and a college student.
“She told me that the last gold medal for Hong Kong was in 1996. She’s got no pressure because she got in [to the Olympics] at the last minute and she has nothing to lose.
“I played with her today and her game is good, very good.
“She has a very good short game and very good irons – if her driver can be more consistent I think she has a chance this week.”
Told of Feng’s appraisal, Chan insisted: “Shanshan’s just being nice!” And of course the Hong Kong player has already recorded a massive achievement just by being one of only three amateurs among the 120 golfers, male and female, in Rio.
“I know my level,” she added, “I can tell the difference between me and her, or Lydia [Ko, the 19-year-old phenomenon from New Zealand who is world No 1 and favourite this week], or other famous players.
“I’m still in college, I’m still a part-time golfer, but if I get more advice or play more with [players like] Shanshan if they’re willing to play with me, I can learn much more from them – and that’s what I’m looking forward to this week.”
Chan and Guangzhou-native Feng chatted in Cantonese during their practice round, and the younger player admitted she’d been studying her idol closely during another blisteringly hot morning over the newly built course.
“I always look up to Feng, her being part of the China team and me Hong Kong,” she said. “I met her when I was like 12 and she was already so good.
“Even though we’re pretty good friends I still look up to her and every time I see her I hope to play well and get a photo with her. I’m really happy to see such an awesome famous star player treat me so friendly even though I’m just like a junior or amateur.
“It’s really good to be one of her younger friends, and just to learn from her.
“I asked her about how’s Tour life because I’m trying to do Qualifying school [to the LPGA Tour immediately after the Olympics] and I told her about that and she gave me some suggestions.
“Mainly we just chat daily life stuff, she’s so outgoing. When she’s hitting I don’t want to disturb her, I just stay away and try to see what she does with her short game and long game – and try to secretly hear what she and her caddie talk about [in planning their approach]!”
Even in just a few hours, Chan reckoned she picked up a few pointers.
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“I can see that she’s got really good feel in her hands, because this course you need to hit some delicate high chip shots, so I studied her technique and that’s something I have to improve. Then her stability on her long game, she never missed a fairway – also she seems very chilled all the time, and that’s something I have to learn from.”
Feng will surely have a better chance of being in medal contention than Chan, for whom just finishing in the top third of the 60-woman field would be incredible. Certainly “chilled”, she wasn’t too worried about the pressure of delivering another gold medal to boost a China tally lagging behind previous benchmarks.
“It’s the first time golf is back in the Olympics after more than 100 years ... [but] I know all the girls very well because it’s the same girls as we play with every week,” she added.
“This course, I think we’re going to be able to shoot some low scores, so it’s going to be like a birdie challenge.
“I’m not thinking about getting a medal or not – I just want to bring my A game.”