Kang's breakthrough a family affair

By Randall MellJuly 3, 2017, 1:00 am

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Danielle Kang broke through in spectacular fashion Sunday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

She broke through all the doubt, disappointment and frustration that mounted trying to live up to the hype that came with turning pro after winning back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateur championships.

Kang, 24, said working through her struggles to finally win in her sixth LPGA season made the victory especially satisfying, but it came with one regret.

“I don't know what it would have felt like to win right away as a rookie,” Kang said. “However, if I could wish anything, I would wish that my dad saw me win.”

Kang’s father died from brain and lung cancer during her second LPGA season.

K.S. Kang was Danielle’s caddie for her U.S. Women’s amateur victories in 2010 and ‘11

“I think that it's been a really difficult road for me for the past four or five years,” Kang said. “It’s life, though. You have to pick yourself up, and you have to keep working hard at it, and then believe in what you're doing, and not letting yourself down.”

In Sunday’s finish, after Kang two-putted from 30 feet for birdie to win her first LPGA title in her 144th start, Kang said her father’s spirit felt especially near.

“What are the odds that my first win is a major?” Kang said. “I'm pretty sure he had something to do with it. It's just incredible. But I know that he was there, because I felt him. I felt him with me every day, and I still do.”

Kang said she could hear her father’s voice as she cleaned up that last putt, which closed out a 3-under-par 68 and sealed a one-shot victory over Brooke Henderson (66), who birdied the final two holes. She remembered what her father told her before she cleaned up a final 4-foot putt to win her first U.S. Women’s Amateur.

“For some reason, I remembered my dad telling me, `I'll buy you a TV if you make this,’” Kang said. “So I wasn't even worried about the putt.”

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K.S. was a telecommunications executive in South Korea.

The triumph was very much a family affair, Kang said.

Danielle’s brother, Alex, a Web.com Tour player, helped her devise a long-distance game plan early in the week, after she left her practice round Tuesday “overwhelmed” by the challenge Olympia Fields presented. She sent Alex smart phone photo snapshots off tee boxes, asking how she ought to attack certain holes. Alex, who knew the course, helped her map out her plan.

Kang’s mother, Grace Lee, walked the course all week rooting for her daughter.

“I'm so blessed to have her with me, for her to witness my first win, because she actually didn't get to watch me win the Ams,” Kang said. “She wasn't there for that.

“My mom believes in me, just as much as my dad did.”

Kang has a tattoo on the edge of her palm on her right hand, with the word “dad” scripted in Korean. It’s in her father’s handwriting. Danielle says she put it there so when she shakes hands with somebody, they meet her father.

Even now, Kang says she keeps communication going with her father. She keeps a journal in which she writes notes to him.

In fact, she wrote something to him this week.

Kang wrote “We can do it” in Korean.

“He used to tell me, `You trust me,’” Kang said. “And I kept saying that to him this week, `Just trust me, I got it.’ I said that to him this morning.”

The journey to Kang’s first victory was arduous.

Through her first five seasons on tour, she rarely contended. The five top-10 finishes she has recorded this year are more than she has posted in any other season.

In 30 previous majors, her best finish was a T-14 at the U.S. Women’s Open in 2012.

David Leadbetter, Kang’s swing coach, says she’s a major talent, but she was probably too desperate to win through her pro career. He said she tried too hard, and she beat herself up too much over results.

“She’s such a perfectionist,” Leadbetter said. “And, sometimes, her emotions get away from her.”

Kang resolved to work on it this year, and Leadbetter said he could see her maturing in so many ways in that work.

“Hopefully, this will give her some peace and be a catalyst for some great golf, because she can be a top-10 player,” Leadbetter said.

Kang showed what she can do at her best Sunday - rolling in putts from all over the place, making four consecutive birdies on the back nine to build a three-shot lead. She showed just how patient she’s becoming, holding off a hard-charging Henderson. Kang rebounded from a bogey at the 17th to close with that winning birdie.

“I just kept trusting in my own game and trusting in my putting,” Kang said. “It's all about believing in what you can do.”

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship

With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”