Danielle Kang needed to let it out. After a frustrating opening nine on Sunday in Shanghai, her caddie, Ollie Brett, gave her permission to throw a temper tantrum.
“I told him, I said, ‘Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard,’ ” Kang said. “He said, ‘Here’s a wedge. Just smash it.’ ”
Kang obliged, regrouped and then pretended to start the round afresh on the 10th hole. A back-nine 32 propelled Kang to her second career victory at the Buick LPGA Shanghai, topping a sea of a chasers in hot pursuit.
Kang’s closing 69 put her at 13-under 275 for the tournament, two shots ahead of a group of seven players that included the likes of Lydia Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn and recent first-time winners Marina Alex and Annie Park.
Jutanugarn’s share of second was projected to move her back to No. 1, but the seven-way tie kept it from happening. Sung Hyun Park has spent the past nine weeks on top, despite a whopping seven missed cuts on the season.
Ko, who has a combined 104 weeks of experience on top of the world, wasn’t even aware of her currently standing (she’s 17th) and said she doesn’t think about it.
“Sometimes you get too carried away about the awards and rankings,” said Ko, who closed with a 66. “It just becomes so much. To me, I think it’s more important to keep putting myself there and putting myself in those – shooting in the 60s, and that way I think it builds the confidence and the rankings kind of sort itself out.”
Kang’s journey back to the winner’s circle was more about overcoming the doubts swirling inside in her head than the list of pursuers.
The 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA champion said she has battled anxiety for months now and that her mental struggles have caused her to feel emotionally drained. Kang admitted to standing over the ball for four minutes before she could hit one shot in particular last week in South Korea.
“People might wonder what I’m doing,” she said. “I actually can’t pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me.”
On the front nine Sunday in China, Kang said she was mostly frustrated with how she was handling things on the inside. She tried to heed the advice of swing coach Butch Harmon.
“The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way,” Kang said. “I just couldn’t do that. If I had a short putt I just kept doubting myself. I couldn’t putt freely.”
Ultimately, it was a swing at the bag that loosened things up for Kang, who celebrated her 26th birthday on Saturday. The 2017 breakout Solheim star became the seventh American to win on the LPGA this season.
Asked in Shanghai why she hadn’t won more since she joined the tour in 2012, Kang wondered if she had enough time to answer before catching her flight.
“We’re digging deep there,” Kang said. “I mean, I had to go through swing changes; I had the swing yips, the putting yips, to everything possibly you could think of.
Overcoming the mentality of the anxiety you feel over the shots, it’s so much that golf does to you and the things that I had to deal with over the course of time that I’ve been on tour. … More so than anything I’m finally at a place where I’m peaceful and happy with my game, with my life. There is just so much more you can get through. I hope I win more; I did the best I can. I’m going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I’ll win more. I’ll play better.” Gwk