U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
CordeValle, USGA Provide Friendly Confines For Californian Kang
July 8, 2016 | San Martin, Calif.
By Tom Mackin
Two of Danielle Kang’s favorite things have converged this week at the U.S. Women’s Open: California weather and a USGA championship. She credits both for her solid play thus far at CordeValle, combining a round of 3-under-par 69 in Friday’s second round with a first-round 71 to stand at 4 under par entering the weekend.
The 23-year-old, who moved to Las Vegas two years ago, grew up in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and loves being back in the Golden State. “It’s just different air here. The weather is amazing.”
Playing in a USGA championship has also raised her comfort level. One look at her record shows why. Kang advanced to the second round of match play in the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and she was the stroke-play medalist in 2010. She earned the stroke-play medal in the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur, then won back-to-back championships in 2010 and 2011. She has also competed in six U.S. Women’s Opens, with a tie for 14th in 2012 her best outing.
“I just like how the USGA championships are run,” said Kang, who has competed in them since age 14. “I know so many officials out here and like when they walk with me. It’s just a different feeling. I see the USGA signs and I feel really comfortable. It makes me think of my junior days when I was trying to qualify for USGA championships. I revert back to those days when I used to just play fearlessly.”
Her play this week so far has reflected that spirit, with birdies on four out of seven holes in a mid-round stretch on Friday. “I felt really good out there. I’ve been scrambling a lot, but you have to make birdies when you can. It wasn’t much easier today, but not having the wind howling in your face made it better.”
That element is now far different than what she encountered during the practice rounds. “Early in the week I was hitting driver and rescue on some holes where I’m now hitting driver and pitching wedge. You just don’t know what (weather) you’re going to get. But it’s the U.S. Open, so what do you expect?”
Kang is fully recovered from a wrist injury she suffered in early May during the Yokohama Tire Classic in Alabama. Although minor, it left her unable to hit bunker shots for six weeks. “That gave me a different perspective not being able to hit wedges very well, so I would hit 4-irons off the tee and have an 8-iron in, or hit a rescue and then 7-iron.”
Her California connections remain strong at Sherwood Country Club in Southern California, where she befriended hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and his family. “Janet and Wayne took me out to Sherwood almost every day when I was an amateur to play and practice,” she said. “Then I got an honorary membership there after I turned professional in 2011. They really took care of me and I appreciate it to this day.”
She has played a few rounds at the club with Gretzky’s future son-in-law and current U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson. “I texted him congratulations after he won at Oakmont,” said Kang. “The game that guy has is unbelievable. I can hear him hit a drive on the ninth tee from the clubhouse and say, ‘Oh, Dustin is here.’”
Johnson offers Kang tips when they play together, and prior to the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in North Carolina he provided her with shot-by-shot guidance for every hole (Kang went on to finish 59th).
But it’s some advice she once received from Gretzky that will be on her mind this weekend as she competes for her third victory in a USGA championship.
“Golf is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” he told Kang. “So just take your time and everything will fall into place.”
Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.