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Pride of China: Teen sensation Janet Lin Xiyu lives up to the hope

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Daughter of a national-team footballer and family friend of World No. 5 Feng Shanshan, China No. 2 JANET LIN XIYU survived a tough LPGA rookie season before the 18-year-old broke into the world’s top 100 by winning her first Ladies European Tour title last month.

 

Interview SportAsia 

Lead photo Ladies European Tour  Portraits SportAsia

 

You finished 81st on the LPGA money list, so what’s your status for 2015?

I kept my card. Actually, the top 80 get a full card, but the top 100 can play almost all the tournaments, so we say we kept the card.

 

Feng Simin will join you on next year’s LPGA after tying for sixth at the Final Stage of Qualifying School. How well do you know her?

I’ve known her for a long time. She’s a year older than me. She was preparing for the 2010 Asian Games with me, so we’ve known each other for a long time. She spent most of her time in America (Feng moved to the USA when she was 10), so before she joined the national team, I didn’t really know about her. But recently we talk a lot and we play together a lot. So, yeah, I’m so glad she made it. It’s tough. The Q‑School is tough. She’s only the third Chinese to pass Q-School. (Read: sport-asia.com/golf-feng-simin-excited-about-growing-chinese-group-on-lpga/)

 

Cindy Feng Yueer, also a teenager, finished seventh on this year’s Symetra Tour, so there will be four Chinese – three teenagers – on next year’s LPGA Tour.

Last year Feng Yueer played Q‑School with me, but then she missed by one stroke, so she played Symetra this year and earned a full card for next year. She’s only one month older than me.

 

"My parents didn't really want me to be an athlete because my mom knew how tough it is. She was a footballer and played for China.

“My parents didn’t really want me to be an athlete because my mom knew how tough it is. She played football for China.”

Growing up in Guangzhou, how did you start playing golf?

When I was young, I think my parents didn’t want me to really be an athlete because my mom (Lin Bujing) knew how tough it is. My mom used to be an athlete. She was a football player and played for the China national team. I think she retired when she was 26.

 

Actually, my mom is good friends with [Feng] Shanshan’s dad. At that time, Shanshan had started playing golf already. Her dad wanted to have a junior team in my city, so he just asked me if I wanted to try. He took me to the driving range for the first time and I saw him hitting balls and stuff. The range was in a big sports centre, which used to be a horse racing track. My parents just told me, ‘Just go try it and you can quit whenever you want.’ That’s why I started playing golf. I was eight.

 

How did you progress?  

I wasn’t really based in a golf club. There are not many golf courses in China or they’re always far from the downtown, so when we were young, we were usually based in the driving range and then we would play in the golf course during the weekend. I think the first golf course I played on is already gone. Recently, I’ve been practising in Dragon Lake [Golf Club]. I live about 40 minutes from there.

 

What does your dad do?

My dad is a businessman, but he likes sport, so when I started playing golf and was working with the coach when I was young, I always forget what they told me. So that’s why my dad started playing golf, because then he can understand what the coach saying.

 

Would he go to all the lessons with you?

Yeah, and then he can remind me all the time. Now, because his business is quite easy, he just needs to work for a couple of months a year and the rest of the time he’s kind of free. And now I turned pro, I don’t really need him to go with me all the time, so he has lots of time playing with his friends. He has a 10 handicap.

 

And does your mum play?

Mmmmm … only in the driving range.

 

What other sports did you play when you were at school?

Before I played golf, I used to do swimming, taking lessons for two years. And then when I was playing golf, I played tennis for a couple of months. I also played basketball, but I always hurt my finger when catching the balls, so my mom said ‘You need to make a decision which one you want’. Then I quit basketball and my mom said, ‘As long as you’re playing golf, you can’t do basketball, because you always hurt yourself’.

 

Lin Xiyu (third left) with compatriots Kim Hye-youn, Wang Ziyi, Tenniel Chu of Mission Hills, Kim Hyo-joo and Hur Mi-jung ahead of the Hyundai China Ladies Open at Mission Hills Shenzhen. Photo: Power Sport Images for Mission Hills.

Lin Xiyu (third left) with compatriots Kim Hye-youn, Wang Ziyi, Tenniel Chu of Mission Hills, Kim Hyo-joo and Hur Mi-jung ahead of the Hyundai China Ladies Open at Mission Hills Shenzhen. Photo: Power Sport Images for Mission Hills.

When did you realise you were going to be a good golfer?

I think at the point I realised I can turn pro. It was after the 2010 Asian Games. In 2009, I joined the national team and then I thought that hopefully I wouldn’t be the alternate, that hopefully I can be the first team. And then I realised, maybe I can play the Asian Games, so I worked pretty hard on it and finally I played the Asian Games.

 

I thought, ‘Hmmm, I can do better than I think’. The next year, I qualified for the US Open and then after I come back from America, I turned pro. I think that’s the point I realised I can make money on golf and I can do very well.

 

You’re only 18, so what about your studies?

I’m still in college right now, in Guangzhou. It’s the same college that Shanshan went to. I’m studying news, media, because my mom, after she retired from the soccer team, she used to be a football reporter, so I think that’s easier for me because my mom can help me.

 

How do you have time to train and play as a pro golfer and also study?

There’s a bunch of good golf players studying at the college, so they really understand our situation. They don’t really need me to go back to school all the time for the class or the exam or something. They just introduce me to my teacher and all the professors can help me, then they do everything online. They can arrange whatever I want, because sometimes I say, ‘Oh, maybe this time I want to improve my English, not just the classes’. Then they can give me an English teacher and help me.

 

Which other golfers are studying with you?

Feng Shanshan, Li Jiayun, Zhang Yuyang and Wang Xin. There are five of us.

 

So when did you first come across Feng Shanshan herself?

The first time I saw her was when I first went to the driving range. Her dad brought me to the driving range. It’s a funny thing. Her dad used to be very strict on her – very, very strict. And the first time I went to the driving range, I saw her dad kick her and say, ‘Go! Go running. Don’t hit balls because you’re hitting so bad’. Then he turned around and told me, ‘Oh, don’t worry, I won’t do that to you’. So it’s funny.

 

I think after one or two years, Shanshan went to America, then she qualified for the LPGA, so then she became a little bit far from me and then we can only hang out together when she came back and during holidays and stuff. After she won the major, I then realised, it’s not impossible to play on the LPGA. That became my goal and I just kept working on it.

 

Lin, 18, finished her season with a third-place finish at the Hyundai China Ladies Open, co-sanctioned by the China and Korean LPGA Tours. Photo: Power Sports Images for Mission Hills.

Lin, 18, finished her season with a third-place finish at the Hyundai China Ladies Open, co-sanctioned by the China and Korean LPGA Tours. Photo: Power Sports Images for Mission Hills.

You played on the Ladies European Tour in 2013. How do you think you performed?

I played around maybe 10, 12 events in Europe and two or three in China. Before I went to the LET Q‑School, I finished top five in two of the LET the tournaments in China, so I thought it was quite easy. In the Q‑School, I finished tied fifth to earn the card and I thought I could win at the first time or something.

 

I thought it would be easy, but when I really played on the Tour, I found it was harder than I thought, especially as it was not just playing. You need to meet people. You need to travel a lot. You need to deal with many, many problems. So in the first half year, I didn’t play really well. After that, when the tournaments moved back to China, I started playing better because I was back to somewhere I knew, so that made me feel better.

 

You were just 17, so who did you travel with?

I travelled with the national team coach at that time, not with my parents.

 

Was your English good before the Ladies European Tour?

I think my English was fine before that, but after these last two years, I think my English has improved a lot.

 

Who were your best friends on the Ladies European Tour?

There are two Chinese players, Li Jiayun and Zhang Yuyang, and we usually hang out with the Thai players because we like the same food. There are a couple of Thai players who are good friends and a couple of Australian players like Nikki Campbell and Whitney Hillier.

 

How difficult was it to secure your PLGA card in the Qualifying Tournament in Florida?

Actually, I was nervous before the tournament, but then on the first two days, I wasn’t really nervous. I think after the third round, because I didn’t play really good, I shoot one‑over and I found I’m still in the top 20. That’s the time when I started to be nervous, because I think I’m so close to it and just need two more rounds, then I can earn a full card. I started to think a lot.

 

But I was lucky because my coach was there with me and I just tell everything to him and he told me, ‘You don’t need to think that much’. Then he give me lots of support, so finally I made it. My coach was Richard Sheridan, but he has since quit the national team and went back to Scotland. My coach now is Andrew Park in Florida.

 

Lin with Park Inbee, Feng-Shanshan, Ryu So-yeon and Brittany Lang ahead of this year's Reignwood LPGA Classic in Beijing.

Lin with Park Inbee, Feng-Shanshan, Ryu So-yeon and Brittany Lang ahead of the Reignwood LPGA Classic in Beijing.

How did you feel about your rookie season on the LPGA, competing against the world’s best?

It’s fun playing out there, because you can see all the players that you could only see on TV before. Then you maybe play one or two rounds with them, like I played a couple of rounds with Park Inbee and played a couple of rounds with Ryu So-yeon, Suzann Pettersen and Ai Miyazato. They are all the players I look up to, so it’s fun playing with them, and I really learn a lot. I found out how tough it is staying on the Tour, because if you’re not playing good, then you drop a lot, so that’s the biggest thing I learned.

 

When you played with all the top golfers, which one really impressed you?

I think all the Korean players because there are so many good players on Tour, but their game is so consistent. They always finish in the top 10 and they are very nice people. They are speaking better English now. Like So-yeon, she’s speaking perfect English. I thought Koreans on the Tour would maybe speak more Korean, but they are very outgoing and easy to talk with.

 

How much time do you spend with Shanshan?

Shanshan looks after me the most, because we’re friends. She can introduce me to all the other players. We’re not usually staying in the same hotel, so maybe we just go out for dinner, have practice rounds together and sometimes travel together.

 

Lin won her first Ladies European Tour title with a five-stroke victory at the Sanya Ladies Open in Yalong Bay Golf Club. Photo: Ladies European Tour.

Lin won her first Ladies European Tour title with a five-stroke victory at the Sanya Ladies Open. Photo: Ladies European Tour.

In October, you won your first Ladies European Tour event in Sanya.  How important was it to win a tournament on an international tour?

It’s funny, because this year, I spent most of my time on the LPGA and then when I came back to China to play these couple of LET tournaments, I just want to see how well I’m doing right now, like how much I improved. So that win is really important, because it’s the first LET win for me, and then it’s the second win in a row for me (after winning on China LPGA Tour), so it really shows me how good my game is, like how much my game was improving. This really gave me lots of confidence.

 

Do you look at the world ranking a lot? Did it mean a lot to you to get into the top 100?

I think my target is playing in the Olympic Games, but I won’t really look at the ranking a lot, because I know when you’re playing good, then your ranking will improve. Then it really surprised me when I get into the top 100, so I just want to stay there as long as I can.

 

Your best result on the LPGA was ninth at the Portland Classic. What worked that week? 

That was the last tournament in August and I did really well in the whole of August, when I also had another top‑20, a top 30 and 40th in the major (LPGA Championship) and I was playing very consistently. When I got to Portland, I though maybe I can do well, I can do better this week, so that week was my first top 10 on the LPGA. Yeah, I was pretty impressed.

 

Which is your favourite major?

I like the US Open because it’s the first major I played, after I qualified in 2011. And then I like the British Open because I finished top 20 last year to keep my European Tour card. It means a lot, because after that, then I’m playing pretty well, so then Wegman’s [LPGA Championship]. I never played ANA, which was Nabisco, so I don’t know that event.

 

Have you set any goals for 2015?

Do better on LPGA. I will still spend most of my time on LPGA and hopefully I can do better this year. Shanshan said the first year, first two years are always tough. So she said, ‘You just need to be more consistent and forgive yourself more’. Like don’t give yourself too much pressure.

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