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Everything Now: Inside the mind of Danielle Kang

By Randall MellJanuary 24, 2018, 6:17 pm

Danielle Kang loves the big stage.

She isn’t shy revealing how much she relishes the spotlight and how comfortable she is being the center of attention.

She isn’t afraid of the pressure that comes with that.

“People have told me since I was a little girl that I love the attention,” Kang told as she prepares for the LPGA’s season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic. “Anyone who knows me will tell you I thrive on that.”

Kang, 25, showed that to the world last July when she broke through to make her first LPGA title a major championship, refusing to blink while holding off a final-round charge from Brooke Henderson at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. She showed it again two months later, stealing the show with her dynamic first Solheim Cup appearance.

“When you’re on a big stage, and you’re under the pressure that comes with that, people get scared of failing,” Kang said. “I want that challenge. I love being in that position. I’m not afraid to fail.”

The challenge for Kang this year is getting herself on that big stage more often. It’s in elevating her game so she can contend more consistently.

Kang is working on a swing change to try to do that, and she’s training in the gym more than she ever has, to get her body better fit to do what her new swing requires.

“I trained harder than I ever have in any offseason,” Kang said. “I took five days off and that was it. I worked out four days a week, sometimes twice a day.”

After winning back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateurs, Kang was frustrated trying to follow up that success as a pro. After getting a taste of winning again at iconic Olympia Fields in Chicago last year, Kang wanted more.

The challenge, her swing coach David Leadbetter says, is that she wants it all right now.

“Danielle is a real fighter, a very feisty individual who is very, very determined,” Leadbetter said. “Her goal is to be No. 1 in the world, but she expects so much from herself. If she has a flaw, it’s that she can be too hard on herself. Patience is not her major virtue.”

While Leadbetter may be her swing coach, Kang says a lot of his focus is teaching her patience.

“Yes, it’s not my best quality,” Kang said. “David will give me a drill to work on something, and I’ll hit about 10 balls and want to know what’s next. He is always talking to me about patience. I think he tries to teach me patience by not answering my texts right away.”

Kang said Leadbetter has been preaching patience since they first started working together in 2014.

“Three years ago, David told me I was going to have a big year in 2017,” Kang said. “He told me I was going to win in ’17. I said, 'Are you kidding me? I have to wait three years?’”

Leadbetter told her she might win before that, but something big was going to happen in ’17. So, still winless midway through last summer, she called Leadbetter to blow off some steam the week before the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

“I had just missed the cut in Arkansas,” Kang said. “So I called David and told him, 'Hey, you told me I was going to win in 2017. It’s freaking July, man!’ He told me to relax, it’s coming, and then I won that week.”

Kang’s friend Michelle Wie also encouraged her.

“Not winning, it haunted her, almost,” Wie said. “She was doubting herself a little bit, and I told her at the beginning of the year, 'It’s coming. I bet you a hundred dollars you win before the end of the year.' So now I really enjoy telling her, 'I told you so.' It was huge for her. Winning definitely builds your confidence.”

Kang struggled to contend again in the second half of last year. She pushed Leadbetter before the Asian swing to help her make some swing changes to get longer, though he would have preferred to wait until the offseason. She said her body wasn’t sculpted to make the specific changes, and she ended up pinching a nerve, injuring her scapula. She withdrew from fall events in China and Japan.

“I’ve always done a lot of lateral movement in my swing, sliding to use momentum,” Kang said. “I wanted to be more explosive, and so David’s helping me get more speed and better compression with these changes. Basically, I don’t use my butt enough in my swing. I use my quads.”

Kang said she is working with trainer Brian Chandler in Las Vegas to better shape her body to make the swing changes.

Again, Leadbetter is encouraging her to be patient.

Through her challenges, Kang has always leaned hard on her family: her mother, Grace Lee, and her brother, Alex. She still leans on her father, too, four years after his death. K.S. Kang caddied for her when she won her two U.S. Women’s Amateurs.

Kang says her family always goes the extra mile for her, and she relishes returning the favor.

For her father, she flies the extra 270 miles on a whim.

That’s how far it is from her Las Vegas home to her father’s gravesite in Glendale, Calif. She takes day trips there every now and then just to sit in front of her father’s tombstone and talk. She hops a 5:30 a.m. flight and about 40 minutes later she’s touching down in Los Angeles.

She’s back home by dinner.

“People don’t believe me, but I have never gone a day without speaking to my family members, to my mom and my dad and my brother,” Kang said. “When my dad passed, one of the hardest things for me was not being able to talk to him.”

So she started a journal after he passed, a journal just for him, where she writes down the things she would like to tell him. It’s her way of continuing to talk to him every day. She also got the word “Dad” in Korean tattooed near the palm of her right hand.

If golf fans didn’t know how close Kang was to her father, they learned in heartwarming detail after she broke through to win the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last summer. She wrote, “We can do it,” to him in her journal the week of the Women’s PGA.

“After he passed, I still kept sending texts to his cell phone,” Kang said. “I finally stopped because I wasn’t sure who was going to receive the messages.”

Kang says her journal is sometimes filled with the simplest things.

“Every day I’ll write something,” Kang said. “It may just be, 'Hi dad, I went to the grocery store today and bought three boxes of cereal because I didn’t know what I wanted.' It’s just a way to keep talking to him.”

So are her day trips to his gravesite. She would love to go there this year to talk about another victory, and how much fun she had being on the big stage.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”