After winning last year's Women's PGA, Danielle Kang has rediscovered her old self

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After winning last year's Women's PGA, Danielle Kang has rediscovered her old self

LPGA Tour

After winning last year's Women's PGA, Danielle Kang has rediscovered her old self

KILDEER, Ill. – Danielle Kang often takes a 5:30 a.m. flight out of Las Vegas to Los Angeles to visit her father’s gravesite in Glendale, Calif. She lies down in the cool grass and shares what’s on her heart. Sometimes she falls asleep. Kang usually takes a noon flight back home to Vegas and heads out to practice.

Before last year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Kang told her father on a rainy day in Glendale that she’d figured it out.

“I know you’re busy up there,” she told him, “but just be there.”

Kang’s father, K.S., died in 2013 after a six-month battle with brain and lung cancer. He caddied for Danielle in both of her U.S. Women’s Amateur victories. After clinching the Women’s PGA at Olympia Fields last June, Kang immediately flew back to Glendale with her caddie, Cole Pensanti, to visit her dad’s grave.

“I went back and I said we did it,” said Kang, who cried when Pensanti surprised her by pulling out his (stolen) caddie bib from the Women’s PGA. They laid it at the grave along with a Coors Light, Starbucks coffee, her father’s favorite brand of cigarette and the flag from the 18th green.

It was a moment she’ll never forget.

People have often asked Kang in the past year how winning a major changed her. Winning actually made the 25-year-old feel more like the Kang of old.

“I kind of lost who I was, hunting down the win, trying to force a win,” she said. “Trying to get that done made me into something that wasn’t who I was. Getting it just freed myself up.”

Said good friend Michelle Wie: “I think a lot of people know how good she is. But she just needed that validation, and I think having that validation is important. You put in all that work, and it’s just nice to have something in return.”

Kang arrived at this year’s KPMG at Kemper Lakes in a new position as a pro: defending champion. The last time Kang had the opportunity to defend a title – the U.S. Women’s Amateur – she found success.

She played nine holes on Monday at Kemper Lakes and at times felt perplexed. It was a similar feeling to what she experienced early week at Olympia Fields, a demanding course that can easily overwhelm.

Seeing her face all over the property, however, is something entirely different, and the outgoing Kang is loving it. Kang posted a video on Instagram of her pulling into a parking space with a blue sign (her favorite color) that read “Danielle Kang 2017 champion.” She let out a little scream.

“I’m everywhere, on the tickets, I’m on the pamphlets,” said Kang. “I’m on the board as you drive in. My name is there. Pictures are everywhere.”

Everything Kang does is at full throttle, majors in particular. After this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, an exhausted Kang pulled a muscle two weeks ago hitting out of the rough at the Meijer LPGA Classic and withdrew. She needed to hibernate before coming to Chicago. Kang slept 18 hours, 20 hours and 11 hours in the ensuing days, getting up to eat only one meal a day.

“You guys know how I play,” said Kang of being majorly drained. “It’s so emotional. I’m so dramatic.”

Asked if those emotions ever get in the way on the golf course, Kang said she knows how to control it and bounce back. She pointed to a three-putt from 20 feet on the 10th hole at Olympia Fields that left her enraged. She stepped back, dissected the problem and self-corrected.

“I’m not a player that‘s going to be calm,” she said.

Growing up, Kang’s parents taught her to always be thankful. Kang said her mother, Grace Lee, does a lot of charity work. K.S. would often take her to buy food to give to the homeless.

“(Dad) always said no one should be hungry,” Kang said.

Since she was a young girl, Kang has envisioned working with UNICEF, and she approached the organization with a written proposal after winning the KPMG. The partnership began several months ago, and she got started by meeting with a group of kids in San Francisco.

“If I can raise awareness, then that’s just what I’ve wanted to do,” said Kang. “I’m very blessed with the things that I have in my life, but we just kind of forget how blessed we are, and we just kind of have to be aware of what’s going on around the world.”

A perspective that would make any father proud.

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