Danielle Kang is a major championship winner and a Californian born and raised. Winning a major in California might be the next step in Kang’s LPGA career, a career that already is on the fast track to stardom.
“It’s a major you definitely want to win, especially in California,” Kang said as she prepared for this week’s ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. “I’m from California, so I think it would be really awesome to be able to win in this state. Last year, I came close. It wasn’t the final round that I wanted, but I think having another opportunity this year is going to be really interesting.”
Kang’s sixth-place finish in the 2019 ANA Inspiration, where she finished six shots behind winner Jin Young Ko, was her best performance in eight starts at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. Three of those starts have ended with missed cuts on a course that Kang says she is still learning about from one start to the next.
“Year in and year out, you come here and you expect it to be the way it is, and it actually even exceeds your expectations when you come,” Kang said. “I get surprised every time I come up here.”
ANA Inspiration: TV info, Skins match details
These days, it is LPGA fans who are excited to see Kang show up at the golf course. Since the LPGA restarted its tour in July, Kang has dominated play. She won the first two events of the restart in Ohio and finished fifth at the Ladies Scottish Open.
Not only is Kang now the leading money winner on the tour with $643,933, but she is also No. 1 in the Race to the CME Globe year-long chase. She has moved to a career-high second on the Rolex Women’s World Rankings behind Jin Young Ko, the defending champion who is not at the ANA Inspiration this week because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Kang’s hot streak in the restart gives her five career LPGA wins, including a major at the 2017 KMPG Women’s PGA Championship. That might sound like Kang is firmly established as the favorite at Mission Hills this week. But rather than thinking about winning, Kang is thinking about the same things she thinks about every week she shows up at a tournament.
“What I normally do when I get to a tournament, kind of figuring out the green speed, the conditions around the greens and how it’s going to play is the most important,” Kang said. “I played nine holes earlier this (week), and they tightened up the fairways even more than they normally do, I’ve noticed, and around the greens, if the ball just rolls over the green or just short, it gets into a little bit of a funky lie.”
That kind of pre-tournament work is particularly important for Kang this week at Mission Hills, which is playing different than during the event’s traditional April dates. Kang and the rest of the field must adjust to playing on Bermuda grass with thick, heavy rough rather than the rye grass of a spring visit to the desert.
“It’s playing way different than I expected,” Kang said. “I didn’t know that the golf course could change from April to September that differently, but I’m really excited to see what kind of golf course and what kind of game is going to be shown this entire week.”
Kang admits it will be strange playing a California tournament without her legion of family and friends who have followed her from her days on the Southern California PGA junior tour to Pepperdine University for two years to her consecutive wins in the U.S. Women’s Amateur. But with COVID-19 restrictions meaning no spectators at Mission Hills this week, Kang said she and the rest of the players have no choice but to focus on the game and not the atmosphere.
“I can just do the best I can and play for them, and I’m really excited to play in California for the first time this year and just be able to perform for them whether they’re at home watching or not,” Kang said. “(I’m) really excited to just kind of have the opportunity to play well and give myself the best opportunity.”
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer, part of the USA today network. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at Sun.@Larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism: Subscribe to the Desert Sun.