China’s Xiyu Lin fired a final round of seven under par 65 in scorching conditions at Yalong Bay Golf Club to successfully defend the Sanya Ladies Open in tropical Hainan, China.
The 19-year-old from Guangzhou ended on a 54-hole total of 13 under par with a two shot margin of victory over compatriot Jing Yan on a leader board dominated by Chinese players, with world no.6 Shanshan Feng a stroke further behind in outright third position. Ssu-Chia Cheng of Chinese Taipei tied for fourth with the United States’ Beth Allen.
Lin started the final day four shots back but took the lead after making three birdies in her first six holes. She then birdied the eighth and was a stroke ahead at the turn. Three birdies in a row from the 12th secured her unassailable advantage but having played in the third last group, there was a nervous wait before she was declared the champion.
She said: “It’s the first time I’ve been waiting in the clubhouse to see if someone could catch me and I was so nervous. I kept telling myself, whatever happens, just accept that and thank God it was a good result.”
Lin won on 14 under par last year and she has never finished outside the top 10 in six editions of the tournament. She said: “I just love this course so much and every hole, every fairway, every green. I need to find out why I always play well in Sanya.”
Her score could have been lower had she made birdie putts on the 15th, 16th and 18th holes. “On the last couple of holes, I was a little bit mad, because I missed a short putt on 15, I missed a birdie on 16 and then missed a putt on the last from eight feet.
“After nine holes I was the same as last year, 10 under and I was telling myself to finish at least 15 this year, trying to make it a little bit better. Unfortunately I didn’t but I gave myself lots of chances and I hit the ball very solid. I’m so glad my long game was really good and even my wedges were getting better the last couple of holes.”
Experienced former LPGA player Mardi Lunn caddies for Lin, who added: “I started to work with her in April this year and she’s really helped me a lot because she used to be a good player and win tournaments. She knows what I’m thinking and we’re having a good cooperation.”
Another Chinese teenager, Yan, 17, from Shanghai, had a final round of 68 for solo second, bouncing back from the disappointment of being disqualified from last month’s Xiamen Open where she signed for a wrong score.
“I felt like at the end if I played better there was a chance to get to that number one spot or tie it, but I’m happy with the way I held up,” said Yan, whose father Ming acted as her caddie. “Overall it’s been a pretty good week after what happened at the last tournament. It’s a learning experience so I tried to put that behind me and tried to think about moving forward and playing the best golf I can.”
Feng, 26, felt that her first appearance in the Sanya Ladies Open was a success overall, despite a disappointing final round of 70. “I would say I had a rough start today. I started with a bogey on the par five and then missed a couple of greens. It didn’t start the way it should have, but I made four birdies from the ninth to the 16th, so that was not bad,” she said.
On the all-Chinese top three, Feng commented: “I think that’s the first time ever. First and second place, they are both under 20, so I’m really happy to see that because the Chinese girls are doing a lot better and they are trying to catch up. I feel like the pressure is off now, because they are good enough to be on the leader board. It’s not just me, I’m not lonely anymore, so I’m happy.”
Lin picked up golf at the age of eight, when Feng was 15, and the pair are good friends. “I started playing golf because of her dad and she has always been my role model,” said Lin. “The last two years she’s helped me a lot and I’m always trying to catch up with her. Recently I did pretty well, but I still think she’s such a great player and she’s still my idol.”
Feng is now set to win the 2015 LET Order of Merit when she plays in the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters next month, where she will be the defending champion.