CHARLOTTE, N.C. – If Danielle Kang will take anything away from a summer of golf dominance, it will be a restored sense of chi. Compared to the player that showed up for last month’s U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont Country Club, Kang is calmer, cooler and more collected this week at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
It showed Friday in her quarterfinal match against Sydnee Michaels, as she overcame a series of near-misses on the greens throughout her back nine and quickly escaped a sudden-death playoff to advance to the final four.
Of course, Kang’s round wasn’t completely without fireworks. The Pepperdine sophomore faced a 4-footer for par at the 18th that would have closed out the match, but missed it to briefly let Michaels back in the match. As the putt sailed another 3 feet by the hole, Kang took a baseball swing with her putter, looked skyward and covered her face with her hands. She knocked in the returning putt so firmly that it almost popped over the back lip and out of the hole.
“I haven’t shown that I get upset at the golf course except that hole,” Kang said after the round, laughing off her frustration. “Anybody would be upset at that hole, come on. I can’t even stay calm there.”
Moving on to the first playoff hole after the near-miss, Kang’s father and caddie K.S. told his daughter not to worry, that this was all part of the show for the crowd of locals following the match. After Michaels chunked a chip from behind the green and two-putted for bogey, Kang made an easy two-putt par for the win.
The quarterfinal berth is just the latest in a string of tournaments in which Kang has made her presence known. She took medalist honors at the U.S. Girls’ Junior last month before falling to eventual champion Doris Chen in the quarterfinals. Two weeks ago she came up two shots short of Michaels at the Canadian Women’s Amateur, but it’s safe to say she evened the score with Friday’s victory.
Then, of course, there was the week at Oakmont.
What Kang took away from a made cut and a stiff test of golf on the monstrous Open venue had little to do with swing thoughts or strategy. The intangibles came into play as Kang went 10 over in the first two rounds to make the cut, then recorded rounds of 79-80 to close the weekend.
Kang, however, couldn’t even tell you what those final two scores were, as her mind was almost completely focused on chasing birdies – even when it was unnecessary – and often coming up with bogey or worse.
“What I learned playing Oakmont is really valuable because I had no patience whatsoever at that course and making the cut was great, but after the cut nothing worked out the way I wanted to and I got really upset,” she said. “I realized I could have saved a lot of shots if I didn’t get frustrated and upset.”
Funny thing is, Kang had heard that advice somewhere before. Less forcefully maybe, but it was still there.
“I know my parents have been saying that to me all my life, but finally Oakmont just threw it in my face,” she admitted.
When Kang returns to the golf course Saturday morning for her semifinal match against Alabama sophomore Jennifer Kirby, who showed little mercy in her 6-and-4 thumping of Kristen Park, she’ll be in uncharted waters. There’s no question that Kang has the USGA medalist bit down – earning stroke-play medalist honors at last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, in addition to last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior – but this is the first time she has advanced past the first round of match play in three trips to the Amateur.
As for Michaels, who had a similar story Friday morning as she competed in her first quarterfinal match in five tries, this year’s run provide fond memories for when she turns pro in two weeks at the Canadian Women’s Open.
Michaels, who recently finished her career at UCLA, made a bomb at the 17th hole to square the match, but couldn’t get many others to drop earlier in the day, and it ended up being her demise.
“I wasn’t making the putts that I needed to make, I wasn’t capitalizing on opportunities that I had, I was hitting the ball relatively well so I gave myself a lot of opportunities to make some putts, but I just couldn’t get it going, couldn’t get momentum going,” she said. “I did not putt well enough to win today.”
It seems the secret to success at Charlotte Country Club just might be the greens – that, and some good zen.