For most of six consecutive days in southern Oregon, a man walked the Bandon Dunes terrain alone.
Feng Ding, 53, is a retired football coach from Beijing. But for the past decade, he’s held an unpaid job as a swing instructor for his only child.
It hasn’t been an easy gig, given his own modest background in a game he didn’t start until adulthood.
“But with my experience as a football coach, I was able to help with training,” Ding said through an interpreter. “And with some advice from golf professionals in China, I was able to guide him.” On Saturday afternoon, Ding’s advice paid off when his 17-year-old son Wenyi Ding held off a spirited charge from Caleb Surratt of Indian Trail, North Carolina to capture the US Junior Amateur by a margin of 3 and 2. .
Ding’s win in the 36-hole final earns him a spot at the 2023 US Open. It also makes him the first Chinese male player to win a USGA event.
“I’m very proud and happy,” he said. “I’m part of history now.”
As a three-time Chinese Amateur Open winner and Volvo China Open 2020 runner-up, Ding is a young star in his home country and the 20th player in the world amateur golf rankings. Despite this position, however, he came to Bandon as a relative unknown, having played only once in the United States before and never in a USGA event. He did not remain indifferent for long. As Ding went through the first two days of stroke play and the first rounds of match play, the buzz around him began to build. It swelled on Friday when Ding edged out last year’s junior amateur semifinalist Luke Potter of Encinitas, Calif., 1st place in the morning and then outlasted Eric Lee of Fullerton, Calif. in the afternoon semi-final, putting himself on a collision course with Surratt.
Surratt, who will attend the University of Tennessee in the fall, entered the championship as one of the hottest hands on the junior circuit, with two wins and no worse than a 9th-place finish in his previous nine events. . He too made it through the early rounds of match play, before knocking out defending champion Nicholas Dunlap 4 and 3 in the semi-finals.
In Saturday’s final, Surratt came out blazing in the morning session with birdies on the first three holes. Only a shrewd back-and-forth from Ding on the par-5 3rd hole kept the deficit at 2.
Surratt has the meticulous manner of a Tour pro and the ball-striking to match. But golf is like a box of chocolates. Add bouncy and windswept link variables, and you have no way of knowing what you’re going to get. On the par-4 4th, Surratt caught a bunker on the green side, giving way to a bogey. Ding made by. As he headed for the 5th tee, 1 down, his dad lightly punched him. The momentum of the match had begun to change.
At the turn, Ding had equalized. By the end of the morning of the 18th, he had built a 3 lead. His cheer section had also grown.
David Zhou, Wen Wu Wang and Xian Zhang, who were all born in China but now reside in Toronto, had come to Bandon Dunes for a golf trip with friends, with no intention of watching the Junior Amateur. But when they learned that Ding was in the finals, they rushed to watch. His name was no secret to them.
“I have been for a while now,” Zhang said. “In China, it’s really a big problem.”
So much so that the three men asked Ding to pose for a photo with them as he left 18.
Early morning advances among junior amateurs have not boded well in recent years. Eight of the last nine event winners were tied or trailing heading into the afternoon session. Ding came out eager to reverse that trend, with a birdie at 2 and an eagle at 3, increasing his lead to 5. He played the first seven holes at five under par and had six under on the turn, with a lead of 7 When Ding birdied the par-4 10th to go up 8, the game was over.
However, closing a championship is difficult. And Surratt wasn’t ready to fold. On the 11th hole, Wing made his first bogey of the final. Surratt then notched three straight birdies.
Another win for Surratt on the par-3 15th and the margin was down to 3 with three holes to play.
“I felt very nervous,” Ding said.
But he recovered on the short par-4 16th, with a solid drive and a crisp chip to close the game. Surratt was the first to congratulate him.
“Wenyi played some great golf today,” Surratt said. “But I fought hard and gave my best and that’s all I can ask for.”
As the moment dragged on, Ding broke down in tears. He hugged his caddy, Wil Lozano, a resort curler, then fell into his crying father’s arms.
In the long run, victory in the Junior Amateur does not guarantee anything. But that’s not a bad sign. Johnny Miller won the event. Just like Scottie Scheffler. Jordan Spieth has won it twice and Tiger Woods has completed the trick three times in a row.
Ding has already committed to Arizona State for the fall of 2023. He will play as an American amateur in August at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey and at the US Open at Los Angeles Country Club next year.
The sky seems to be the limit. His father thinks of finding him an experienced instructor.
“The problem is,” the elder Ding said, “I’m afraid they might change his swing.”