Shanshan Feng of China

Shanshan Feng of China poses with the Sky Woman Trophy after winning the 2019 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic near Green Bay.

HOBART — It’s the biggest birdie-fest in women’s golf, and maybe in golf at any level anywhere. Assaulting Old Man Par isn’t a crime at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic. It’s not even a misdemeanor. If you’re not throwing darts at greens as soft as Charmin, you’re missing the party.

Before she teed off in the final round Sunday, Marina Alex saw the limp flags and knew the Thornberry Creek at Oneida course was going to be as docile as 6,646 yards can be. Did she have a score in mind?

“Yeah, 59,” Alex said with a laugh. “If there ever was a time to shoot it, today was the day.”

There were no 59s, but there was a course-record 61 by Patty Tavatanakit of Thailand. Alex shot one of four 63s and there were five 64s.

Such was this tournament’s brief two-year history as a place where par goes to die that Shanshan Feng of China went into the week thinking she’d need to shoot 30-under to win. (For comparison’s sake, only two golfers in PGA Tour history have finished at 30-under or better in a 72-hole tournament.)

It turns out she was one stroke off.

Feng, 29, a one-time Rolex No. 1 who has struggled this year, knocked down flagsticks all day and shot a 63 to finish at 29-under 259, two strokes off the tournament and LPGA record of 31-under shot by Sei Young Kim in winning here last year.

Feng made nine birdies – four of them over the final six holes, including a clinching 4-footer on the 18th after sticking her 8-iron approach – to edge 2018 player of the year Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand by one shot and win the sleek Sky Woman trophy and $300,000 from the purse of $2 million.

Feng, who never looks at leader boards, was so far into the zone – or was it the Twilight Zone? – that she had no idea as she approached the 18th green that she was tied for the lead with Jutanugarn, who shot a 64 but made a costly bogey on the par-5 15th.

“I thought I was winning because like everything was set and you could tell around the green, like the people were ready for the trophy presentation,” Feng said. “So, I was like, maybe I was winning already. Then before I putt, I looked up at the leader board and I said, ‘Oh, now I have to make this one.’

“So suddenly the little putt made me a little nervous, but I’ve been playing really well this week and I was like, ‘Just another good putt, good stroke.’ And it went in.”

Thus ended one of the biggest birdie-paloozas in LPGA history. The field made 43 eagles and 1,930 birdies for the week, including 13 and 397 in the final round. Twenty-two women finished at 20-under or better, 60 finished at 10-under or better and only five players failed to break par Sunday. The final-round scoring average was 67.49 but the top 14 finishers averaged a scorching 65.5.

Like a major championship, this tournament tests a player’s patience. The difference is, at a major the challenge is to stay patient after a couple bogeys or a double and here the challenge is to stay patient after a run of pars.

“On the front nine, I made one birdie and eight pars and I felt like I was getting lapped – and then I looked up at the scoreboard and confirmed that I was getting lapped,” said Tiffany Joh, who played with Feng in the final pairing, shot a 67 and tied for third. “You can’t do stupid things because you’re getting upset. On a course like this, when you can potentially make nine or 10 birdies in a row, it’s especially important to be patient.

“It didn’t help that Shanshan was out there just throwing darts. She is such a phenomenal player and I think she’s one of the best ball-strikers on our tour.”

Individually, Jutanugarn played hole Nos. 5 through 9 in 6-under with two eagles; Jeong Eun Lee birdied seven consecutive holes in a 64; Alex birdied nine of the first 16 holes, and Alana Uriell made 10 birdies in a 63. Yealimi Noh, a 17-year-old Monday qualifier, made two eagles and 22 birdies in her LPGA debut and tied for sixth at 23-under.

Then there was Tavatanakit, who left UCLA after her sophomore year and was making her fourth start as a professional. She eagled No. 3, birdied No. 5 and eagled Nos. 6 and 9 – that’s three eagles in a seven-hole stretch – and then birdied Nos. 10 and 11. She hit all 18 greens in regulation.

“The last (eagle), I was like, OK, this will be my third eagle and if I make this, I’ll be a little happy,” said Tavanakit, who got to 11-under through 15 before finishing with three consecutive pars. Bummer.

The question is not whether the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic is good for golf. It showcases some of the most talented women in the world doing things the likes of which weekend hackers can only dream, and what’s wrong with that? No, the question is whether the tournament has a future.

When the final numbers are in – dollars, not birdies – the Oneida Nation will have to take a hard look at whether continuing to prop up the tournament makes financial sense. Without a title sponsor, it’s a $2 million commitment for the Oneida. Also, though it’s hard to believe a third-year event could have run its course, the galleries this week appeared to be disappointingly small.

Within weeks, the financials will be presented to the general tribal council and approximately 1,700 members will vote on whether to continue the contract with the LPGA. In May, tribal chairman Tehassi Hill told Wisconsin.golf that it was “50-50” whether the tournament would continue.

It would be a shame to see it go away. It’s only $30 for a single-day grounds and clubhouse ticket ($25 in advance) and kids 17 and under are admitted free of charge. That’s a small price to pay to witness a shootout the likes of which occurred Sunday.

“It feels,” said Uriell, “like it was a surreal day.”

Hopefully, we haven't seen the last of Thornbirdie.

LPGA Tour: 2019 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic | FINAL results (Thornberry Creek at Oneida GC)

Pos. CNE
Start
STANDINGS
Finish
Player Total Thru Today R1 R2 R3 R4 Total
Wisconsin leaderboard
CUT - - Presley Cornelius (a) 96 103
Full leaderboard
1 30 15 Shanshan Feng -29 F -9 64 67 65 63 259
2 22 16 Ariya Jutanugarn -28 F -8 65 64 67 64 260
T3 14 10 Amy Yang -25 F -7 64 70 64 65 263
T3 112 69 Tiffany Joh -25 F -5 64 66 66 67 263
5 20 20 Hyo Joo Kim -24 F -8 71 63 66 64 264
T6 - - Yealimi Noh -23 F -4 63 65 69 68 265
T6 3 2 Sung Hyun Park -23 F -3 65 62 69 69 265
8 61 52 Jing Yan -22 F -5 68 68 63 67 266
T9 48 38 Marina Alex -21 F -9 69 67 68 63 267
T9 148 T118 Alana Uriell -21 F -9 68 67 69 63 267
T9 35 34 Kristen Gillman -21 F -8 69 63 71 64 267
T9 19 21 Celine Boutier -21 F -7 66 69 67 65 267
T9 9 8 Eun-Hee Ji -21 F -6 68 67 66 66 267
T9 96 83 Mina Harigae -21 F -3 67 63 68 69 267
T15 - - Patty Tavatanakit -20 F -11 68 70 69 61 268
T15 36 36 Ally McDonald -20 F -9 65 70 70 63 268
T15 117 103 Giulia Molinaro -20 F -7 69 67 67 65 268
T15 11 12 Carlota Ciganda -20 F -7 65 69 69 65 268
T15 99 93 Anne van Dam -20 F -6 69 68 65 66 268
T15 T38 37 Chella Choi -20 F -6 70 66 66 66 268
T15 T140 T122 Dottie Ardina -20 F -6 68 67 67 66 268
T15 27 25 Gaby Lopez -20 F -5 66 67 68 67 268
T23 T55 49 Pornanong Phatlum -19 F -8 67 69 69 64 269
T23 113 T99 Tiffany Chan -19 F -5 64 71 67 67 269
T23 89 80 Alison Lee -19 F -3 65 68 67 69 269
T26 91 84 Jeong Eun Lee -18 F -8 63 73 70 64 270
T26 132 T118 Elizabeth Szokol -18 F -7 69 68 68 65 270
T26 43 39 Megan Khang -18 F -7 66 70 69 65 270
T26 44 43 Caroline Masson -18 F -5 66 68 69 67 270
T26 17 19 Yu Liu -18 F -4 62 69 71 68 270
T31 - - Mind Muangkhumsakul -17 F -5 69 67 68 67 271
T31 T140 126 Lee Lopez -17 F -5 67 65 72 67 271
T33 118 111 Lauren Kim -16 F -7 68 69 70 65 272
T33 81 76 Nicole Broch Larsen -16 F -2 71 66 65 70 272
T35 97 95 Emma Talley -15 F -7 69 67 72 65 273
T35 23 24 Mi Hyang Lee -15 F -6 69 70 68 66 273
T35 65 62 Austin Ernst -15 F -5 67 70 69 67 273
T35 59 57 Anna Nordqvist -15 F -4 64 70 71 68 273
T35 154 144 Karine Icher -15 F -2 71 68 64 70 273
T40 84 81 Aditi Ashok -14 F -6 70 69 69 66 274
T40 130 121 Louise Ridderstrom -14 F -6 71 67 70 66 274
T40 131 T122 Brianna Do -14 F -5 68 67 72 67 274
T40 T162 152 Cydney Clanton -14 F -4 65 71 70 68 274
T40 26 28 Moriya Jutanugarn -14 F -4 65 69 72 68 274
T45 8 9 Nasa Hataoka -13 F -3 64 70 72 69 275
T45 78 75 Ayako Uehara -13 F -2 69 68 68 70 275
T45 47 46 Mi Jung Hur -13 F -1 70 66 68 71 275
T45 63 60 Lauren Stephenson -13 F -1 66 68 70 71 275
T49 88 T88 Hee Young Park -12 F -6 74 65 71 66 276
T49 T105 102 Wichanee Meechai -12 F -5 69 70 70 67 276
T49 111 104 Jane Park -12 F -4 66 70 72 68 276
T49 67 67 Jasmine Suwannapura -12 F -2 64 73 69 70 276
T49 13 14 Sei Young Kim -12 F -1 69 70 66 71 276
T49 66 65 Ryann O'Toole -12 F E 73 64 67 72 276
T55 152 148 Brittany Marchand -11 F -3 73 66 69 69 277
T55 98 T99 Katherine Perry -11 F -3 68 70 70 69 277
T55 40 40 Jodi Ewart Shadoff -11 F -3 67 71 70 69 277
T55 - T156 Kelly Tan -11 F -2 70 69 68 70 277
T59 73 73 Pajaree Anannarukarn -10 F -2 69 70 69 70 278
T59 150 147 Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras -10 F -1 68 70 69 71 278
T61 69 68 Jennifer Song -9 F -3 66 71 73 69 279
T61 54 55 Charlotte Thomas -9 F -2 71 67 71 70 279
T63 144 143 P.K. Kongkraphan -8 F -6 71 68 75 66 280
T63 71 72 Maria Torres -8 F -6 71 68 75 66 280
T65 120 125 Pavarisa Yoktuan -7 F -3 68 71 73 69 281
T65 T162 T160 Youngin Chun -7 F -2 71 67 73 70 281
67 119 124 Lee-Anne Pace -3 F 2 67 70 74 74 285
68 - 167 Maddie McCrary -2 F 1 69 70 74 73 286
T69 136 139 Clariss Guce 2 F 2 69 70 77 74 290
T69 T162 T163 Cheyenne Woods 2 F 3 71 68 76 75 290

garyd@killarneygolfmedia.com

Gary has covered golf in Wisconsin since 1980 and is a multiple award winner in the GWAA writing contest. He was inducted into the WSGA Hall of Fame in 2017 and joined Wisconsin.Golf in 2018 after a distinguished career at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.