Barrington, R.I. – Many athletes become champions, but it’s a rare few who actually get to end their careers on the pinnacle of the mountain.
Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway left the NFL after claiming a second consecutive title in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Ray Bourque, another Hall of Famer, hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in his final National Hockey League game in 1999.
When it comes to golf, Bob Jones retired after completing the “Grand Slam” in 1930. And four years ago, Trip Kuehne disappeared from competition following his 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur title. He played in the 2008 Masters, and then returned to his business interests and family. He hasn’t played in a competitive event since.
Danielle Kang isn’t ready to put her clubs in the closet, but she sure made a grand exit from women’s amateur golf this week at Rhode Island Country Club. Putting on a ball-striking and putting display worthy of a champion, the 18-year-old from Westlake Village, Calif., became the first player to successfully defend her U.S. Women’s Amateur title in 15 years when she defeated 17-year-old Moriya Jutanugarn, 6 and 5, in Sunday’s scheduled 36-hole final.
LPGA Tour pro Kelli Kuehne was the last to accomplish the feat, and before that, you had to go back to 1987, when current Golf Channel analyst/announcer Kay Cockerill won her second consecutive title right here along the shores of Narragansett Bay.
Cockerill also turned pro that summer, skipping out on a chance to play for the USA Curtis Cup Team the following spring.
Kang, who spent three semesters at Pepperdine University after graduating high school six months early, decided earlier this spring that the 2011 Women’s Amateur would be her swan song from amateur golf.
She sure stepped out with a bang. Not only did she go 6-0 last year at Charlotte (N.C.) C.C., but she also won the North and South Women’s Amateur last month at Pinehurst No. 2, made the cut at the Wegmans LPGA Championship and U.S. Women’s Open, and two weeks ago earned low-amateur honors at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Carnoustie.
Pretty good stuff for a player who doesn’t turn 19 until Oct. 20.
“It’s convinced me now that you are ready to go,” said Kang, who made 11 birdies over the 31 holes of the championship match. “Every time an amateur turns pro, they always think in the back of their mind, am I ready? Now I know that I am. I have to go to the next level, whether I am the top player there or not. It’s someplace to start.”
Even if friends have tried to convince her to remain an amateur one more year. Amy Anderson, the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, told her she could come live with her in North Dakota.
Kang just laughed. Putting a Californian in the northern climes of Fargo would be like sending an alligator to the Arctic Ocean or a polar bear to the equator.
Not even the lure of the Curtis Cup or going for a rare third consecutive title could get Kang to change her plans.
“How about if I win it for a third time, they’ll say what about four in a row?” said Kang. “I am going to miss being an amateur. I got to play in the [Women’s] World Amateur Team [Championship last fall in Argentina].
“You can’t get everything in life.”
Doctor, Doctor Give Me Some Help
Dr. Ellen McNally was having a nice Friday night dinner with her parents and boyfriend when her cellphone rang. Good friend and local physical trainer, Dave Perron, was on the other end. Perron had been contacted by Maura Rogers, who was hosting Kang and her father, K.S., this week. Kang had re-aggravated a rib/shoulder injury during Friday’s quarterfinal win over Demi Frances Runas.
Perron often works with the Rogers family, so he recommended McNally. Perron and McNally have worked together at the Acushnet Company through their wellness program.
McNally, 31, also practices a therapy called active-release technique, something that Kang’s chiropractor in California utilizes as well. McNally agreed to meet Kang at her office.
Because it was going to be a one-time adjustment, McNally spent 45 minutes working on her.
“We were only going to have one chance to get it better,” said McNally after Sunday’s prize ceremony inside the clubhouse at Rhode Island C.C. “Usually there are a few more treatments involved.”
With McNally’s assistance, Kang and her father avoided having to purchase a last-second airline ticket for her mom to come to Rhode Island. Grace Kang is a licensed acupuncturist.
McNally, who has been in practice for the past five years, was just happy to get Kang ready to play. In fact, she felt so good Sunday morning that all she needed was the kinesio tape that was applied to her shoulder and rib area.
“Her main source of pain was from her rib and some rotator cuff stuff,” said McNally. “It’s very common things with golfers.”
Kang wasted little time thanking McNally for her services. She said Saturday without the treatment, she would have lost her semifinal match against Brooke Pancake.
“There were only two shots that were kind of iffy [in Sunday’s final],” said Kang. “I could feel the tension. Then it went away when I just walked towards my ball. I wasn’t scared to go for my shot. I thought, ‘It’s my last day, just go for it.’ I got well-rested. I got fixed. Let’s go.”
A Well-Earned Respite
The Jutanugarn sisters are headed back to Thailand in two days after a five-month odyssey that took 15-year-old Ariya and 17-year-old Moriya to approximately a dozen tournaments, including three USGA events: the U.S. Women’s Open, the U.S. Girls’ Junior and this week’s Women’s Amateur.
The two girls, who have come to the U.S. the past three summers, arrived in March for the Kraft Nabisco Championship, where Ariya had an exemption. They stayed for USGA qualifiers and competitions, American Junior Golf Association events, the Callaway Junior World and PGA Junior Championship. Ariya enjoyed the most success, winning the Rolex Tournament of Champions in June, last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior and the PGA Junior in early August. Moriya was the low amateur at the Women’s Open and a finalist at the Women’s Amateur.
“I wanted to go home after the first week,” said Moriya. “My parents just say keep going. [But] I am really tired.
Moriya is entering her junior year of high school this year and begins classes upon returning to Thailand with her younger sister. But the elder Jutanugarn would like to eventually to return to the U.S. full-time to attend college.
“I still have to take the SAT,” said Moriya, who takes two hours of English classes a week. “But it’s not conversation. Just grammar and other stuff.”
Asked if she would take a break from golf when they got home, Moriya said: “I take a break for two days. My dad wants to work with my coach really soon.”
Odds And Ends
Prior to coming to her press conference, Kang said she had received 75 text messages, 40 voicemails, Twitter updates and 78 friend requests on Facebook. By the time she had finished the 20-minute interview, the number of text messages had risen to 80…Kang was quick to credit Wayne and Janet Gretzky for their help in getting her an honorary membership at Sherwood C.C. in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Janet Gretzky, the wife of the Hall of Fame hockey player, was choked up emotionally when she made a congratulatory phone call to Kang after the final…Kang also regularly plays with Hall of Fame running backs Eric Dickerson and Marcus Allen at Sherwood. “They keep me in place,” she said. “They always tell me what is right and wrong.”… Kang isn’t sure where she’ll make her professional debut, but said it could be the upcoming Canadian Women’s Open. She also could Monday-qualify for the Wal-Mart Open in Arkansas, the Navistar LPGA Tournament in Alabama and possibly get into the Hana Bank Championship in Korea this October.
“All I have to do is have fun and when you have fun, you play well. If you play well, you get big bucks.” – Danielle Kang when asked about finally playing for pay.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him at email@example.com.