U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Fine-Tuning Complete, Kang Seeks Cap to a Career Year
December 9, 2020
By Ron Sirak
When Danielle Kang turned professional after successfully defending her U.S. Women’s Amateur title in 2011, the bar of expectation was set very high. Only three others had kept the Robert Cox Trophy since World War II and at only 18, the Southern California prodigy seemed like a sure thing.
But not all stars are overnight sensations and in the case of Kang it took many nights – and years – before she emerged as an LPGA winner. She teed it up in 144 Tour events before finally winning, but when she did it was a big one: The 2017 Women’s PGA Championship.
That was just the breakthrough Kang needed. Since then, she has won five of her 67 Tour starts, including back-to-back triumphs in August when the LPGA returned for two events in Toledo after a five-month COVID-19 break.
Now, she comes into Champions Golf Club as one of the favorites in the 75th U.S. Women’s Open. It is her 12th start in the championship, the first coming when she was only 14 years old.
“It's a lot of years, a lot of great golf courses that I got to play playing this championship, and I'm really excited to tee it up on Thursday,” she said Tuesday at Champions Golf Club.
As for advice for those playing their first U.S. Women’s Open, Kang spoke with the voice of experience.
“Go practice some lag putting and try and minimize your three-putts,” she said.
“My first U.S. Open at Pine Needles [in 2007] was an eye-opener for me, and I'd only played golf for a year and a half at that point,” Kang said. “But it was a lot of three-putts – hit the green, three-putt, hit the green, three-putt. And this golf course here at Cypress Creek, it's a big golf course, so a lot of lag putting is going to happen, as well. Got to make the 5-, 6-footers for nice par saves.”
Kang backed up that Women’s PGA triumph in 2017 with one victory each in 2018 and 2019. A win this week and the $1 million first prize would more than double her winnings for the year, which sit at $867,465, third-best on Tour in this shortened season.
Kang missed the cut in two of her last three U.S. Women’s Open Championships, but in 2018 at Shoal Creek she placed fourth, her best finish. Kang’s last Tour outing was that second-place finish on Oct. 22.
“I came here during the Houston Open, during the men's event, and played three rounds just to get familiar with the golf course,” she said about her preparation for this week.
“I think being able to calibrate between the golf courses back and forth will be really key, because they're rolling differently, the greens,” she said about playing the first two rounds on the Jackrabbit and Cypress Creek courses.
Kang, who became tabloid fodder at the Solheim Cup in Scotland last year when she said she wanted to make Europe cry, took the loss by the United States very personally. Her 1-3-0 record flipped the 3-1-0 mark she had in 2017 and her 1-up loss to Carlota Ciganda in singles as the U.S. lost 14½ to 13½ seemed to light a fire under her.
She closed out 2019 by finishing first, second and third in her last three tournaments and started 2020 with a T-12 and third-place finish in her two starts before the COVID-19 break. The she returned with those two victories in August.
“I've taken quite a bit of time off,” she said about not competing since finishing second at the Drive On Championship in late October.
“I actually needed to tune up some stuff back at home with my game and feel like I was ready to play here,” Kang said.
“I need to have my height and I need to have my ball control,” said Kang, whose 258.2-yard driving average ranks 38th on Tour. “Distance off the tee is going to be huge. I wanted to get that dialed in and try to be here as prepared as possible.”
A lot is at stake for Kang this week. A third win in 2020 would give her the lead for the money title and a leg up on Rolex Player of the Year. It would also put her in a very select group.
Only seven players have won both the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Open, and that short list includes some of the legends of the game: Patty Berg, Betty Jameson, Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Catherine Lacoste, JoAnne Gunderson Carner and Juli Inkster.
Professional success came slowly to Kang after those twin U.S. Women’s Amateur titles. But now she’s on a roll. And the U.S. Women’s Open would be a major step toward meeting those expectations set so high for her so many years ago.
Overnight success has come slowly for Danielle Kang, but it seems as if the best is yet to come.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.