OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Danielle Kang is a second-degree black in Taekwondo who knows how to deliver a good punch or kick.
The problem is she beats herself up too much.
Well, she used to, anyway.
After winning back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateur championships, Kang sees now that she may have been driving herself too hard to win big like that again.
With a 5-under-par 66 Friday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Kang is seeing some new-found patience paying off.
At 7 under overall, Kang was tied for the lead with Sei Young Kim (66) through the second round’s morning wave.
“I was kind of bummed out I haven’t won out here,” said Kang, 24, who won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2010 and ’11. “It’s a difficult journey. I don’t dwell on just winning one tournament out here anymore. I’ve changed my attitude out here the last couple months. I’ve had two wins nobody can take away from me, and I feel special about that.”
Kang has listened to so many loved ones and advisers tell her to be patient with her ambition to win. Hall of Famer Carol Mann joined the voices when she met with Kang this week. Mann was emphatic about its importance.
So is her swing coach, David Leadbetter.
“Patience is a word I use a lot with Danielle,” Leadbetter said.
That’s because he sees how much Kang wants to succeed.
“Sometimes, she tries too hard,” Leadbetter said. “She’s a really good person, but she needs to learn to be her own best friend. She fights with herself, and she is so hard on herself. I think it’s the only thing holding her back from being a top player, because I think she can be a top-10 player in the world.”
After an injury-riddled season last year, where a left wrist injury, bulging discs in her neck and eye surgery kept her off tour for long spells, she’s showing some of the best form in her seven-year LPGA career.
Kang is relishing her fast start this week. She shook hands with a reporter who asked about the word “dad” that is tattooed on the edge of her right palm. She said she put it there so when she shakes hands, people get to meet her father, who died of cancer at the end of her second LPGA season. She also has the words “Just be” tattooed on the pointer finger of her right hand. She says it stands for something her parents always told her: “Just be yourself.”
Leadbetter says there’s intense devotion in Kang.
“She’s feisty, a real grinder,” Leadbetter said. “She’s also a real gutsy player, and I like that in her. She hasn’t shown what she is really capable of yet.”
Kang has something going this season. She has logged four top-10 finishes. That’s already more than she has enjoyed in any of her previous six seasons on tour.
As a rookie in 2012, Kang finished T-3 at the Kingsmill Championship. That remains her best finish in an LPGA event.
In 30 previous major championship starts, Kang is still looking for her first top 10. Her best finish was T-14 at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open.
Kang has a good friend who knows a lot about what it takes to win a major. World Golf Hall of Famer Hollis Stacy has become a source of unwavering encouragement. Stacy, 63, is a four-time major championship winner.
“She’s just a great role model,” Kang said. “She texts me after every round. She’s just the most positive human being. If I’m down, she calls me. She’s always looking out for me.”
Kang says she can depend on Stacy delivering words that have become a mantra.
“Just be patient,” Kang said.