NAPLES, Fla. — Shanshan Feng could think of no better way to celebrate.
Her second straight victory before a home crowd in China at the Blue Bay LPGA meant she was projected to rise to No. 1 in the world for the first time. She had to wait for it to become official, and she had a plane to catch.
The news arrived as she was in a Dallas airport waiting for her connecting flight to Florida.
“I was really, really excited,” Feng said Wednesday. “I was by myself at the Dallas airport and I went into Friday’s and I ordered a steak for myself. I mean, I was trying to celebrate a little bit with a steak. I took a picture of it and sent it to my dad and mom. I was like, ‘I’m here celebrating.'”
She didn’t send a screen shot of the women’s world ranking. She sent a picture of the steak.
More than just the No. 1 ranking is on the line this week at the CME Group Tour Championship. The LPGA Tour finale is so compelling that it could offer something to everyone or everything to one player.
Feng is among five players who only have to win the tournament to capture the $1 million bonus for the Race to the CME Globe. She is among four players still in the running for LPGA player of the year. Also up for grabs among three players is the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, while two players can win the money title.
So if Feng celebrated with a steak for reaching No. 1 in the world, what does she do for player of the year?
“Maybe a bigger steak,” she said with a laugh. “Normally when I celebrate, there are two things. One is food, of course. I don’t know what food yet, but I can tell you I’m going to have some good food and share the happiness with my parents. Second thing is, I’m going to buy myself presents.”
She prefers handbags, and a $1 million can buy a lot of those.
Those decisions are still four days away.
The drama begins Thursday at Tiburon Golf Club and concludes with what could be the most dynamic conclusion to an LPGA season.
Lexi Thompson, Sung Hyun Park, Feng, So Yeon Ryu and Brooke Henderson only have to win the tournament to claim the $1 million bonus. All but Henderson have to win the Tour Championship to be awarded LPGA Tour player of the year.
Thompson, Park and In Gee Chun are still in the mix for the Vare Trophy. The money title comes down to Park and Ryu.
The majors are over. But with so much at stake, it feels like one.
“Feels like definitely one of the highlights for the year,” Ryu said. “Yeah, without major title, this one feels like a major.”
Feng arrived in Florida as the hottest player on the LPGA Tour. She was runner-up in Malaysia, and then won in Japan and China to become the fifth player this year to occupy the No. 1 ranking, a record for the men’s or women’s world ranking in a calendar year. Ryu hasn’t won since June and has been coping with a sore right shoulder that has tempered her expectations and left her wondering how much she can rely on her long game.
Thompson remains somewhat a sympathetic figure from a tough year on and off the golf course.
She learned two months ago that her mother is cancer-free. The biggest trial was overcoming her playoff loss at the ANA Inspiration, where she was penalized four shots late in the final round for incorrectly marking her ball on the green in the third round. That’s a two-shot penalty, but because the violation was not reported until Sunday, she was docked another two shots for signing an incorrect scorecard. She rallied to get into a playoff, where Ryu beat her on the first extra hole.
“I think it’s pretty obvious what tested me the most this year,” she said. “I believe everything, I guess, happens for a reason. I don’t know why exactly, but it has made me so much stronger as a person on and off the golf course.”
Asked if she thinks much about it, Thompson looked away and said tersely, “No.”
The most intriguing figure of the bunch is Park, the LPGA Tour rookie who can leave Florida with all the goods. She already has won LPGA rookie of the year. By winning the tournament, she can sweep all the awards.
Nancy Lopez in 1978 was the only other woman to win LPGA player of the year, rookie of the year, Vare Trophy and the money title.
“This year coming in, my goal was to just win one tournament and potentially win rookie of the year,” Park said. “Having now achieved both of those and being in reach of some of the other titles, I certainly feel a little more pressure to chase those. … At the same time, I know I’m not the only one in the chase,” Park said. “I know all the other competitors are feeling the same pressure.”