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Chinese target Olympic success

March 8, 2016

Feng Shanshan said Olympic success this year could erase "negative images" of golf in China, where it is often viewed as elitist and was singled out in an anti-corruption drive last year.

Feng, the women's world number nine and the only Chinese golfer to win a major, told AFP that a medal in Rio would do wonders for the sport in her home country.

"The history of golf in China is still pretty short compared to the other countries," she said at last week's HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore.

"I think it's going to make a big difference if somebody is going to do well (in Rio)," added Feng.

The 26-year-old hit the big-time by winning the 2012 LPGA Championship but it had nothing like the impact of Li Na's victory in the 2011 French Open, which sent tennis soaring in the Chinese consciousness.

But Feng suggested it could be very different after the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where golf is returning to the Games after a 112-year gap.

"Most of the people in China maybe still don’t know about (golf) because it has got a lot of negative images in their heads," Feng said.

"But I think everything is going to change after they see that golf is in the Olympics and it’s the same as the other sports."

"Golfers can bring the country the gold medals, which they really love," she added.

Last year, China's 88 million Communist Party members were banned from joining golf clubs in a corruption crackdown which also targeted banquets and lavish gift-giving.

China also shut down 66 illegally built golf courses in another sign of hardening attitudes to golf among the authorities, which have long had an ambivalent relationship with the pastime.

Feng, who finished joint 13th in Singapore, is a four-time LPGA Tour winner but she believes TV coverage of China's Olympic golfers will help change attitudes.

"Golf is a great sport, once people know about the good things and they see how fun it is, maybe there will be more people trying to pick up the sport," she said.

"Even though they don’t play it themselves, they’ll watch on TV, I think that’s enough,” she said.

Feng is one of only two Chinese golfers in the women's top 100 -- along with 43rd-ranked Lin Xiyu, 20 -- but she says she's now a "big sister" to younger Chinese players who are coming through the ranks.

"They always have a lot of questions that they always ask me. So I try my best to answer them and I think the best way for me to help them is when they come up to the Tour I can introduce my friends to them," she said.

But in Rio, Feng will focus on her own game -- with the aim of a transformative gold medal in mind.

"My goal was to at least get into the Olympics and I think I'm fine with that goal now," she said.

"What I can focus on is to play my own game now and try to play well and I think everything will work out itself," she said.

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