USGA CHAMPIONS
Kang Gets First Pro Win; Uihlein and Luck Come Close July 2, 2017 By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Danielle Kang's victory means she will be a major champion when she tees it up in the U.S. Women's Open. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

When Danielle Kang closed out Moriya Jutanugarn, 6 and 5, at Rhode Island Country Club to capture the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the phenom from Pepperdine University looked poised for big things on the professional stage. The San Francisco native was the first player in 15 years to win the championship in consecutive years, and since joining the LPGA Tour in 2012, she has been a consistent presence, never finishing worse than 62nd in earnings.

However, winning was something Kang had yet to do since her stellar amateur career came to a close. She broke through in a big way in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club, making four straight birdies on the back nine and fending off a late charge from defending champion Brooke Henderson to earn a one-stroke victory.

Kang opened up a three-stroke lead on Sunday with birdies on holes 11 through 14. Henderson birdied her last two holes while Kang bogeyed No. 17 to pull even, but a fairway metal from 233 yards on the par-5 18th came to rest 25 feet from the hole, and two putts later, she had secured a birdie and her place in major championship history.

“Over the last putt, for some reason, I remembered [my father] telling me, ‘I'll buy you a TV if you make this 4-footer at the U.S. Am,’” Kang recalled. Her father, K.S., died in 2013. “I remembered it. So I wasn't even worried about the putt. I was just remembering what he said to me, and it didn't really matter.”

Kang is one of 12 players to have won the Women’s Amateur in consecutive years. And with Sunday’s victory, she added her name to an elite list of U.S. Women’s Amateur champions who have gone on to win majors. Legends such as Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, JoAnne Gunderson Carner and Juli Inkster are among the 16 players who achieved the feat.

Both players whom Kang beat in her Women’s Amateur finals also had strong weeks at Olympia Fields. Jessica Korda, who fell to Kang in 2010 at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club, finished tied for 14th. Jutanugarn entered the final round five strokes off the lead before a Sunday 73 dropped her to a tie for 20th.

Close Call for Uihlein as He Earns Open Spot

After struggling on his front nine, 2010 U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein made a furious late run at the HNA Open de France at Le Golf National in Paris, posting a 31 on the back nine to shoot 68. It wasn’t quite enough, as Uihlein, who was tied for the lead through 54 holes, fell one stroke short of Tommy Fleetwood, who fired a final-round 66 to capture his third European Tour victory and second of 2017, two weeks after finishing fourth in the U.S. Open.

As consolation prizes go, it could be worse for the Oklahoma State University product. With his high finish, Uihlein earned a spot in The Open Championship, conducted by The R&A, later this month at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in England. As part of The Open Qualifying Series, the top 3 finishers not already exempt into the championship who finished in the top 10 earned spots. Uihlein, who finished alone in second place, joined Alexander Bjork and Mike Lorenzo-Vera in securing their places at Royal Birkdale.

“The only way you can give yourself a chance to compete is to get into it so I’m excited to be there,” said Uihlein, who will be playing in The Open Championship for the third time, and first time since 2014. “Like everybody else I have watched it all and in the few that I have played it is a tough test, it’s challenging.”

Luck Takes Next Step in Professional Career

For a short period of time on Sunday, Curtis Luck was looking down at the rest of the field during the final round of the Quicken Loans National at the TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm. The reigning U.S. Amateur champion who was playing in his sixth PGA Tour event since turning professional following the Masters, birdied hole Nos. 2, 4 and 5 of his final round to briefly take the lead. 

While bogeys on 8, 9 and 11 derailed his bid to win, he parred the last seven holes to post 4-under 276 and finish tied for fifth. His best previous finish was a tie for 34th in May, at the Dean & Deluca Invitational.

“I felt really comfortable out there [with the lead]. On that last day, I didn’t see the reads on the greens as well, and that happens, you hope it doesn’t happen in that situation, but I just look at it, I was leading through [six holes], and I’m really looking at it as a massive positive," said Luck.

Luck, 20, may have fallen short of victory, but he didn’t leave empty-handed. In addition to a check for $216,994 he also earned a spot in The Greenbrier Classic next week for finishing in the top 10. That’s important since, as a non-PGA Tour member, he can only accept a finite number of sponsor’s exemptions. Next week’s start will not count toward that limit. Luck had earned $68,211 thus far in 2017.

“I was planning on going home to Orlando and do some house hunting, we need to find a new place to rent, so that was probably on the card," he said. "So it’s much nicer to miss out on house hunting.”

After defeating Brad Dalke in the U.S. Amateur championship match at Oakland Hills Country Club last August, Luck tied for 46th in the Masters and then turned pro, foregoing an exemption into the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. He has made four of six cuts as a professional.

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.