Danielle Kang emerges as Solheim Cup star in clutch 2-0 debut

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Danielle Kang emerges as Solheim Cup star in clutch 2-0 debut

LPGA Tour

Danielle Kang emerges as Solheim Cup star in clutch 2-0 debut

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – The first time Ben Howard met Danielle Kang, he walked in on her doing one-armed push-ups in the hallway of her California home to the theme song of “Rocky.” The 10-year-old was even alternating hands.

“I swear to God,” said Howard, “I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.”

Howard was a friend of Kang’s old brother Alex, and the three would go on to play golf on the same high school team together. Danielle qualified to compete for the boys individual state title but ultimately wasn’t allowed to play.

“She loved to hear people say that she doesn’t belong,” said Howard.

Kang bought four stars-and-stripes onesies for her Solheim Cup debut and gave one to Howard and close friend Hillary Packard. Howard, who recently graduated from law school, roasted in that onesie on Friday watching his childhood friend go 2-0. She became the 11th American rookie to win her first two matches, joining the likes of LPGA Hall of Famers Beth Daniel, Betsy King and her pod leader Pat Hurst.

“She’s meant for this,” said Kang’s foursomes partner Lizette Salas.

Trailing by one point after the morning session, the Americans got Midwestern fans in a frenzy by sweeping the afternoon four-ball to take a 5 1/2 to 2 1/2 lead. It marked the first time in Solheim Cup history that the Americans have swept a session. Europe didn’t lead for a single hole in all four matches.

Early in the week, Inkster noted that she had researched the history of American teams at four-ball and foursomes and determined that “we equally suck at both of them.” Clearly not this year, though Inkster wouldn’t gloat.

“This thing is so far from over,” she said.

Sorenstam was ready to the forget the day but sounded resolute in her belief that Europe could turn this thing around.

“I won tournaments after 72 holes,” said Sorenstam, “not after 27.”

The meticulous first-time captain benched Carlota Ciganda for Saturday’s morning session due to poor form and said Charley Hull was sitting out due to a wrist injury.

The bottom line Sorenstam said, Europe couldn’t match the home team’s flow.

“I would say the spirit is still there, if not stronger,” she said. “You get a little fired up when you see an afternoon like this.”

Kang, a two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and major champion, was made for this kind of stage. Her friends on tour knew it, as did her mentors and U.S. captain Juli Inkster. On Friday in West Des Moines, Iowa, a new Solheim star emerged.

“I’ve been waiting six years for this,” said Salas of having Kang on Team USA. They partnered together in morning foursomes to take down Carlota Ciganda and Caroline Masson. Kang rolled in the winning putt on the 18th hole, one of several clutch saves for the KPMG Women’s PGA champ.

“She didn’t play like a rookie,” said Salas. “She played like a major champion.”

In the afternoon, Kang paired with good friend Michelle Wie in four-ball. The pair are so close they started a blog together. This was a partnership years in the making.

“Just trying to support her today,” said Wie. “Just let her shine.”

Kang thrives on a big stage. When the crowd started to get quiet on the first tee Friday morning, the 24-year-old raised her hands in the air, urging fans to get loud as she hit. Before competition started, Kang Googled what the PGA Tour’s Waste Management event gets and hoped the LPGA could one day match it.

“Like Michelle said, I’m a princess,” said Kang. “I like the attention. I love the vibe. I want that crowd.”

Walking to the 18th hole in the morning session after a three-putt, Inkster noted that Kang tried to ease the pressure of the moment by telling her that at least this way they get more air-time on television.

Kang went on to drain another clutch par putt to put a big smile on her captain’s face.

“She rises to the occasion,” said Inkster.

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