Ruoning Yin had yet to even start playing golf when Shanshan Feng clinched the 2012 Women’s PGA Championship to become the first Chinese player to win a major.
Just 11 years on at the same tournament on Sunday, a 20-year-old Yin carded a nerveless final round to join her compatriot in the history books as China’s second major champion.
The world No. 25 rolled home her fourth birdie of the day on the 18th hole at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey to cap a bogey-free four-under 67 for the round and eight-under overall, one stroke ahead of Japan’s Yuka Saso.
Feng called time on her professional career in August 2022, retiring just before her 32nd birthday with a major, 10 LPGA Tour victories, and a former world No. 1 ranking under her belt.
For Yin, who sealed her first LPGA Tour win in April, that’s the benchmark.
“She’s definitely the goal that I’m chasing,” Yin told reporters Sunday.
“She is the person who inspired me the most.”
After picking up the clubs at 10 and a half years old, it was not long before Yin was enjoying a prolific junior career, yet she almost took different path entirely.
A“huge” basketball fan and long-time Steph Curry admirer, a young Yin was ready to choose the court over the course had it not been for one small detail.
“I always told my mom, if I’m maybe 10 centimetres higher, I would probably just go play basketball, not golf,” Yin said.
A glittering amateur journey followed, with Yin rattling off nine titles in 2019 and rising to 64th in the world amateur golf rankings before turning professional in 2020.
Yin made the jump in historic fashion, announcing her arrival on the China LPGA Tour with a record-breaking three straight wins.
The golf academy in the‘City of God’
Her rookie season on the LPGA Tour in 2022, having secured membership through a fourth-place finish at the Q-Series, proved more challenging. Three straight wins off the bat were replaced by three straight missed cuts, as Yin failed to make to the weekend seven times in her first nine LPGA starts as a professional.
Yet a season-best tied-fourth finish at the Dana Open in September signalled a turning point, as a string of top-20 performances followed before a maiden LPGA triumph at the LA Open in April.
“First thing, I think my English improved a lot,” Yin said Sunday.
“Second, my game is more mature. Before I’d just go straight at the flag every shot, and right now I think I play smarter.
“My coach always said,‘You’re such a good ball striker. You just need to play smart and focus on your line, on your target, and you’re going to be fine.’
“I think we’re doing good right now.”
That maturity and ball-striking was on full display at Baltusrol, as Yin opened with a 67 that included a birdie-eagle finish.
After a disappointing second round 73, Yin bounced back with a 69 on Saturday to start the final round three shots off the lead.
From the outset, the 20-year-old was a picture of consistency, missing just two fairways and going 18-for-18 on greens in regulation despite the disruption of an inclement weather delay.
Saso left little room for error, bogeying just once all day on the 16th hole and similarly closing with a birdie, but Yin would not be denied.
“I was on the 18th tee and I saw the leaderboard, and I know I have a one-shot lead,” said Yin.
“After the tee shot, I saw Yuka make an incredible birdie here, and I know I have to make birdie at this hole to win the championship. I’m glad I did it.”
Her closing birdie effort was by no means a gimmie either, but the Chinese star rolled home coolly before celebrating with an emphatic fist pump.
Yet celebrations will be wrapped quickly. The next major on the calendar looms with the US Women’s Open at Pebble Beach in California on July 6, followed by the Evian Championship in France on July 27.
Even before the dust had settled on her first major win, Yin was eyeing the next.
“[It’s] Just one tournament,” she said.
“I think there’s more to come.”