Auto-matic: Kang can't stop winning cars

By Jason SobelNovember 2, 2014, 1:25 pm

There's a scene in the classic film "Vegas Vacation" (and no, that description isn't debatable) where Rusty Griswold – a C+ student, as his own mother calls him - explains his penchant for winning cars through slot machines while moonlighting as mover-and-shaker Nick Papagiorgio.

“I put a dollar in, I won a car; I put a dollar in, I won a car; I put a dollar in, I won a car; I put a dollar in, I won a car.” 

Danielle Kang knows the feeling – sort of.

A resident of the city which yielded all of those vehicles to the fictional “Mr. Papagiorgio,” she traveled halfway around the world to find similar recent fortune.

At last week’s Blue Bay LPGA event on Hainan Island in China, she holed an 8-iron from 151 yards in the opening round for an ace. Eight days later, at the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship, she repeated the feat with a 7-iron from 156 yards. Each came on the course’s 17th hole, each using a TaylorMade ball marked with the number 17.

Officials at the National Hole in One Registry estimate the odds of aces in back-to-back events at roughly 350,000-to-1, but even that news buries the lede.

The real story here is that with two swings, Kang earned two cars – a Buick LaCrosse with the first one and an Audi A6 T2.0 with the second.

“To be ‘that golfer who keeps winning all the cars’ just feels blessed,” the 22-year-old said in an email interview with

Others would use, well, different words. Playing partner and friend Lizette Salas joked that she was upset because the latter ace forced her to twice back off her own subsequent tee shot. Another player, Hillary Packard, kiddingly threatened to revoke her friendship over jealousy. And Kang’s own Uncle Howie asked, “Who has a problem winning two cars and struggling to find them a home?”

Now he has an answer.

Kang’s home in Vegas only has a one-car garage, which currently holds her Porsche Cayenne. Time to break out that “first world problems” hashtag.

“I don't have a place for all the cars,” she explained. “My mom has a three-car garage, so I'll store my ‘old’ cars there.”

Before you start envisioning Kang with a fleet of automobiles affixed with fitting vanity plates like “ACE1” and “ACE2” the facts get in the way of what would be a good story.

She’s already decided to take the equivalent monetary value for the Buick and will gift the Audi to her brother, Alex, who was with her in Taiwan, but left Friday morning before the hole-in-one.

As if the story of aces to win cars in consecutive tournaments isn’t impressive enough, Kang adds this disclaimer, which was running through her mind while standing on the teebox prior to the most recent hole-in-one.

“For some weird reason, I had this gut feeling that I may make another one,” she insisted. “When I saw the ball land and kick toward the hole, I thought, ‘Wow, this actually is going to happen!’”

For the rest of the golf world who’d like to card an ace every week or so, she offered up a little insight into the secret.

“I live by what I see and what I feel ,” she explained. “I think that's the secret to holes-in-one. First you have to imagine it going in before hitting the shot, and then trust your feelings.”

Kang will readily admit to having some divine inspiration for these shots, as well.

Last November, her father, K.S., passed away after battling brain and lung cancer. She feels like the man who caddied for her as an amateur is still keeping a close eye on her performances.

“For this to happen to me,” she said, “I know my dad is up there in heaven watching after me.”

Now in her third full season on the LPGA, the world’s 104th-ranked player is still seeking her first victory. But even when offered the loaded question of whether she’d trade the aces and the cars for a win, she wouldn’t budge.

“I won't look back and ‘trade’ anything for better, because everything happens for a reason,” she said. “Trading my aces and the cars for one win is completely unequal. This is something that won't just happen to anyone. I'm very thankful to be that someone.”

With two recent swings, Kang has earned acclaim, she’s earned publicity and – as if we could ever forget – she’s earned a couple of cars. Or at least the monetary equivalent thereof.

Maybe she’ll earn a nickname, too. It could be Ace. Or Auto-matic. Or hey, maybe they’ll just call her Ms. Papagiorgio.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”