In her second ever collegiate tournament, Shiyang Fan set a school record by scoring a two under par 70 in the first round at the Whitman Women’s Invitational on Sept. 26. She followed that up with a 78 in Sunday’s second round, enough to win by three strokes over sophomore teammate Phoebe Nguyen.
With their team win in the tournament, Whitman has now won back-to-back tournaments to open the season, this time beating second place Whitworth by 24 strokes. Much of that early success has been a product of Fan’s play.
When describing Fan’s style of play, Assistant Athletics Director Skip Molitor praised her short game.
“She’s actually probably the shortest [on our team] off the tee, but … her wedge game is excellent, her putting is excellent, her short game is very good,” he said.
During the first tournament of the season, she struggled to find her swing with her driver and irons, but was able to adjust and improve quickly.
“She scrambled around very well to shoot 82 in a tournament where we only won by two,” said Molitor.
Despite her shaky overall play, she was able to avoid big numbers and help keep Whitman in contention.
Heading into the home tournament, the team was convinced Fan would perform well.
“We saw some indications in practice that she was starting to relax a little bit, making some birdies, hitting some really good shots,” Molitor said.
Her teammate, sophomore Phoebe Nguyen, echoed similar sentiments.
“She had been working hard on her game,” she said.
But Fan wasn’t quite as confident, commenting on her nerves going into the second day in light of her previous tournament. Back to back 82s and an 11th place finish is a great result, especially for a first-year, but she and her teammates knew she was capable of much more.
Wine Valley Golf Course plays to Fan’s strengths, because it is, as Fan describes it, a particularly wide-open course; though it does require precise approach shots as well as solid putting, which are the best parts of her game. Wine Valley’s greens can be quite difficult, but Fan feels right at home there.
“I really like the greens. I feel comfortable on them. The last six holes I was feeling really good about my [approach] shots, and my putting was really good,” said Fan.
This was evident on the back nine of Saturday’s opening round, as she followed up a front nine 37 with a back nine 33.
Fan went to a powerhouse golfing high school in Torrey Pines, California, winning the 6A state championship her freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons before finishing second her senior year.
“It was a lot of fun recruiting her,” said Coach Molitor. “She was looking for a highly academic Division III situation. Right from the get-go we thought it was a great fit.”
While she likely could have played at the Division I level, Whitman was able to sway her thanks to her devotion and interest in academics. Molitor went on to say that even during the recruiting process, he believed she was going to be a pretty special player for Whitman.
The transition onto the team has been seamless, as Fan has indeed been a great fit from day one.
“I really enjoy playing with the team, they are all super nice people,” she said.
Fan has been a great addition to the team not only with her scoring, but also with her effect on other teammates. Nguyen in particular believes Fan will greatly help her improve her own game. Having won five of her last six tournaments before the Whitman Invitational, Nguyen was looking for a new challenge and is very glad it came from her own teammate. Having someone to compete with every single day in practice is helpful to most athletes.
“It definitely motivates you,” said Nguyen.
She also had high praise for Fan’s mental strength.
“When she plays, she shows no emotion, so you can’t tell when she’s doing well or not … I’m actually trying to [model] my game after how she’s doing it,” Nguyen said.
If the two stars do in fact learn from each other and keep pushing one another to new heights, the rest of the Northwest Conference will have their work cut out for them as Whitman figures to be a mainstay atop the leaderboard for many years to come.