'I just embrace it.' Women's PGA champ Kang no stranger to dramatic endings

 
By Chris Kwiecinski
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 5/14/2018 6:00 PM
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  • Professional golfer Danielle Kang and former Chicago Bull Toni Kukoc chipped golf balls onto a floating green on the Chicago River Monday morning in a charity event. The event was part of 2018 KPMG Women's PGA Championship Media Day. The 2018 KPMG Women's PGA Championship is to take place at Kemper Lakes in late June.

      Professional golfer Danielle Kang and former Chicago Bull Toni Kukoc chipped golf balls onto a floating green on the Chicago River Monday morning in a charity event. The event was part of 2018 KPMG Women's PGA Championship Media Day. The 2018 KPMG Women's PGA Championship is to take place at Kemper Lakes in late June. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Professional golfer Danielle Kang and former Chicago Bull Toni Kukoc chipped golf balls onto a floating green on the Chicago River Monday morning in a charity event. The event was part of 2018 KPMG Women's PGA Championship Media Day. The 2018 KPMG Women's PGA Championship is to take place at Kemper Lakes in late June.

      Professional golfer Danielle Kang and former Chicago Bull Toni Kukoc chipped golf balls onto a floating green on the Chicago River Monday morning in a charity event. The event was part of 2018 KPMG Women's PGA Championship Media Day. The 2018 KPMG Women's PGA Championship is to take place at Kemper Lakes in late June. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Professional golfer Danielle Kang and former Chicago Bull Toni Kukoc chipped golf balls onto a floating green on the Chicago River Monday morning in a charity event. The event was part of 2018 KPMG Women's PGA Championship Media Day. The 2018 KPMG Women's PGA Championship is to take place at Kemper Lakes in late June. Here, Kang smiles as she makes a picture of her name engraved on the trophy after her 2017 victory.

      Professional golfer Danielle Kang and former Chicago Bull Toni Kukoc chipped golf balls onto a floating green on the Chicago River Monday morning in a charity event. The event was part of 2018 KPMG Women's PGA Championship Media Day. The 2018 KPMG Women's PGA Championship is to take place at Kemper Lakes in late June. Here, Kang smiles as she makes a picture of her name engraved on the trophy after her 2017 victory. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Reigning Women's PGA champion Danielle Kang does not like drama. This is a problem, because she says drama often seeks her out.

Drama found her during Monday's 2018 KPMG promotional event in Chicago as she and former Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc were trying to land drives onto a small green floating in the Chicago River.

The good-mannered, closest-to-the-pin competition for charity had to be cut short, due to lightning and pouring rain.

"I don't like drama but drama seeks me, so that means I'm really dramatic," Kang said. "I just embrace it."

Kang is no stranger to drama, either, as the conclusion of the 2017 KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club was as dramatic as they come.

Kang battled with then-defending champ Brooke Henderson, and their competition came down to the final holes. Kang seized the stage, and won by one stroke with a birdie on the 18th.

The victory was her first LPGA Tour win, which lifted the burden of playing for that first title. Now, the 25-year-old Kang can fully enjoy the game as a drama-free, up-and-coming professional.

"Playing just for fun got me to win that tournament, and now I'm not really worried about winning," Kang said Monday. "I want to win, of course, and I practice to be the winner. But, I don't have to get that first win out of the way now and that burden is just gone."

This year, Kang has two top-five tournament finishes and is planning to defend her championship title, which tees off at Kemper Lakes Golf Club in Kildeer June 28 to July 1.

Repeating as KPMG Women's PGA champion is one of her life goals, Kang said, and having the label of back-to-back major champion would mean the world to her.

Not only would she repeat as champion, she would do so in front of the Chicago golf fans she loves and describes as passionate.

"I don't know much about Chicago, but I love the tournament," Kang, a southern California native, said. "I love the people."

One of her first tastes of that sports passion came when she would wear a Cubs minor league affiliate sweatshirt she got from a friend who played in the system. Cubs fans would shout, "go Cubs!" to her at the airport, and even when she was grocery shopping.

Although Kang loves playing before Chicago fans, what she knows about Kemper Lakes is what she's heard from those who play the course.

"They say there's a lot of sand," Kang said. "They also tell me the last holes are amazing finishing holes."

Kang also drew praise from Kukoc, as the three-time NBA champion said Kang's concentration rivals what he needed to have as an NBA player.

"Their game, it's even more exposed if they don't practice," Kukoc said. "There are 14 clubs they've got to know how to hit at any given moment."

Kang's rise as a golfer parallels the state of the LGPA. Chief Communications and Tour Operations Officer Heather Daly-Donofrio said the number of LPGA events has risen from 23 to 34 since 2011, with players from 32 countries.

"Our diversity is our strength," Daly-Donofrio said.

Kang, a San Francisco native, said she finds inspiration in that diversity, such as how she shares tee times with LGPA pros who are also mothers.

"That's incredible. That inspires me," Kang said. "It's not about the age, it's just about how passionate are you? How much are you willing to give for the game?"

Kang said she's continuing to work on her wedge game, specifically practicing different yardage styles, in order to help her take the next step as a professional golfer.

Repeating as KPMG champion would be key in taking that next step, and that puts a lot of attention on her performance at Kemper Lakes.

Fortunately for Kang, she loves that attention. She just doesn't like drama that comes with it.

• For more information, visit kpmgwomenspgachampionship.com

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