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Kang aims to recapture major magic

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Danielle Kang has always been one of the most effervescent players on the LPGA tour.

Her enthusiasm grew, to the point of exhaustion, however, after capturing her first career professional tournament, a major no less, in July when she won the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

In the following months, Kang has struggled to regain her form as she tries to balance the opportunities created by her breakthrough victory with the demands of travel on Tour and the need to bring her best game to the course every week to be competitive.

Kang, a 24-year-old Californian, is one of the 81 players in the field this week at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship.

She's played in just seven Tour events since her win, missing the cut in the first three (including the U.S. Women's Open and the Women’s British Open), withdrawing from the fourth and finishing tied for 18th, 24th and 66th in the past three.

Kang birdied the final hole to win the Women's PGA Championship, edging the defending champion, Brooke Henderson of Canada. Kang shot all four rounds in the 60s at tough Olympia Fields Golf Club outside Chicago, and had just five bogeys for the week, all in the final two rounds.

"Winning the major was great, and, honestly, I wasn't ready to compete afterward," Kang said last week at the LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship, which was played in her "homeland" in South Korea.

Kang won the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship in 2010 and 2011, and she was expected to flourish once she turned pro. Instead, it took Kang 144 tour events to find the winner's circle for the first time.

She went through some trying times, including the death of her father, K.S., to brain cancer in 2013 and injuries that led to her missing six tournaments in 2016.

"It's a difficult journey. I started to think that I won the U.S. Amateur so long ago," Kang said. "I just wanted to have a win that's recent. A lot of people have told me you can't focus on winning one tournament out here or winning 40 tournaments out here.

"My mom mentioned that the U.S. Amateur is something no one can take away from me. I won it back-to-back. So I don't dwell on it anymore. I've changed my attitude on that in the last couple of months."

Kang is currently No. 23 in the world rankings and 21st in the Race to the CME globe standings on the LPGA. She has banked nearly $2.5 million in her professional career while recording 13 top-10 finishes since joining the tour in 2012.

She has rebounded from a rough 2016, when she suffered torn tendons and a lunate bone fracture in her left wrist, disk problems in her neck and surgery in December to remove a pterygium (benign growth commonly known as surfer's eye that can be caused by sun exposure) in her right eye.

Her vision in the repaired eye has yet to return to what it was, as she still lacks depth perception. Kang's wrist still has micro-tears, but her orthopedist cleared her to play.

"I just need to keep up with the rehab," she said, "and constantly be aware of the risk because it's golf – you hit the ground on every single shot. As long as the doctors give me the green light, I don't think about it."

Family comes first to Kang. She has two tattoos on her right hand. "Just Be" was inked on her index finger seven years ago. And on the side of her hand is a Korean word honoring her father.

"That says 'Dad' in his writing," Kang said. "When I go, 'Hi, nice to meet you' (and shake hands), everyone can meet my dad. I took it off one of the letters he wrote me and had it stamped."

Kang said winning this year came with emotions that lingered after her last putt fell at Olympia Fields. She confessed her reserve for competition was depleted for a spell that continues.

"Not winning while my dad was alive had been the biggest regret," she said. "Finally, winning, I could breathe again," Kang said. "I am free. I love golf, and I want to play, but it's been an obsession. Now there is inner happiness.

"People say when they win they get a monkey off their back. That was a gigantic rhinoceros, elephant, mammoth off my back."

It's time to move forward – she said her father would tell her so – and for Kang, there's no better time to win again than right now.