It’s an age-old debate. Does winning breed confidence or does confidence breed winning? (Think the chicken or the egg.)
Jeffrey Kang isn’t any closer to the answer, but he does know this: Confidence is good, in any form, at any time. So just go with it. Don’t question it.
Kang, No. 10 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, is enjoying some of the best golf of his career, thanks in large part to a renewed sense of confidence. He posted a T-8 at the HP Boys Championship and a T-11 at the Heather Farr Classic this year, two timely finishes for the 17-year-old.
Kang hopes he can peak in the coming year as he prepares to play college golf at national powerhouse USC.
“The competition inside the team is what helps you get better,” said Kang, a 2010 grad. “You’re going to have to fight for a spot; that’s the way you get better.”
USC was a distant thought a few years ago. Kang had moderate success on the AJGA circuit, but played in the shadow of his good friends Sihwan Kim, Alex Shi Yup Kim, Michael Jae Woo Im, and Kristen Park.
Sihwan Kim and Alex Kim are now mainstays on the Stanford and UCLA squads, respectively, while Im turned pro this spring after completing his freshman year at UC Irvine.
At one point, the five friends were teammates at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, Calif., perenially one of the state’s – and nation’s – best high school golf teams.
“We’re pretty good,” Kang says with a laugh. “There are a lot of Korean people in the area. And we usually all practice at the same places.”
Kang still keeps in touch with his friends, but relations with Alex have been strained since he learned of Kang’s commitment to USC, a cross-town rival of UCLA’s.
“He’s not very happy,” Kang says, laughing.
Though he’s already decided on his school, Kang looks at AJGA invitationals as a means to prove he belongs at the elite levels of junior golf. Kang has yet to play the Thunderbird Invitational, but he’ll bring confidence into this week’s event. He’ll need it against a field that includes top-ranked Jordan Spieth, second-ranked Cory Whitsett, and third-ranked Cameron Peck.
“They have a lot of confidence that they can win,” says Kang. “You have to believe in yourself. It’s a big tournament, but I’ll be playing with the same guys and with the same mindset.”
Kang entered the big stage at last year’s Rolex Tournament of Champions where a third-round 67 propelled him to an eventual runner-up to Whitsett. He also posted top-10s at the ’08 HP Boys and Ping Invitational.
“I have a new comfort level,” says Kang. “It’s more fun now because I’ve played so many events that I’m more comfortable now than when I was younger.”
Kang left for Thunderbird on Thursday and will scope out Grayhawk Golf Club’s greens to get an idea of what he should expect during competition.
Either way, Thunderbird won’t be anything he hasn’t seen before.
He’s confident of that much.