Kang repeats with dominating Women's Am win

August 15th 2011 -
Courtesy of GolfWeek

Barrington, R.I. – Ariya Jutanugarn offered this not-so-comforting advice to her older sister after Danielle Kang dominated Moriya in Sunday’s 36-hole final: “Now you know when you go back to Thailand that you have to work more.”

If it’s any consolation to Moriya, few could’ve denied Danielle Kang a second U.S. Women’s Amateur title. Kang was 10 under through 31 holes, defeating Moriya, 6 and 5, on an overcast, rainy New England day. The pain that caused her to have a late-night session with a chiropractor before the semifinal round, had suddenly melted away.

“It’s the best I’ve played in a major championship,” Kang said. “I brought it on.”

Kang became the 11th player to win consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur titles, joining the likes of Margaret Curtis, Glenna Collett, LPGA founder Betty Jameson and Hall of Famer Juli Inkster. Golf Channel announcer Kay Cockerill also won her second consecutive at Rhode Island Country Club.

Kang’s mother, Grace Lee, didn’t get a chance to “say goodbye” to the Robert Cox Trophy before it left California, but a very confident Danielle said “Mom, don’t worry about it. I’ll bring it back.” She kept her word.

College friends Austin Ernst, Emily Tubert and Amy Anderson doused Kang with water on the 13th hole after she closed the match. It was a most welcome downpour. Kang immediately called her mother, who was crying on the other end.

“She's not going to miss another tournament after this,” Danielle said.

Jutanugarn, 17, struck first early Sunday morning with a birdie on the opening hole. Kang squared the match with the first of three consecutive birdies on No. 3 and thus began a resounding victory march. By the 13th hole, Kang led 6 up, and couldn’t help but wish Sunday’s final had been reduced to 18 holes.

“Oh God, I’m 6 up, come on we’re done,” Kang said laughing. “But we have 18 holes to go and I know what Moriya is capable of, I’ve seen her scores.”

Kang, 18, led 4 up at the halfway point and loaded up on chicken fingers and a hot dog at the clubhouse buffet. The grease didn’t weigh her down. She promptly birdied the 19th hole and reminded those watching that ball-striking always has been her strength. Kang hit 23 of 26 fairways and 25 of 31 greens.

“I feel like I played bad,” said Jutanugarn, even though she was 4 under, with concessions. It’s easy to understand given how easy Kang made it look.

Jutanugarn and her sister, the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, will head back to Thailand with their parents later this week. They’ve been in the U.S. since the Kraft Nabisco and played around a dozen tournaments. Moriya, a junior in high school, said she’d like to come to the U.S. to play college golf but first needs to take the SAT.

“This summer is really long,” Jutanugarn said. “I wanted to go back home the first week I come here.”

When asked if she’d take a break from golf when she returned home, Jutanugarn said “two days.” Dad wants her on the lesson tee.

Kang maintains she has matured greatly since beating Jessica Korda last year in Charlotte. There are, she said, “no weak points” in her game. She went back to a mallet putter after the U.S. Women’s Open and feels comfortable on the greens. Since winning her first Women’s Am title, Kang has played in four LPGA major championships, earning low amateur honors earlier this month at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

While Kang’s game has improved, she didn’t want to comment on what she learned from the abrupt ending to her college career. Kang failed to meet Pepperdine’s academic requirements and was ineligible for postseason play. She plans to turn professional immediately after the Women’s Am, and may try to Monday qualify for upcoming LPGA tournaments. She’s exempt into the second stage of LPGA Q-School via her Futures Tour status as Golfweek’s top-ranked amateur.

After winning her second Women’s Am title as well as the Women’s North & South, Kang has no doubt she has made the right decision. Good friend Anderson, the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, jokingly tried to convince Kang to transfer to North Dakota State to build snowmen in the offseason. The girl from Thousand Oaks, Calif., didn’t waver.

“Every time an amateur decides to turn pro, they always think, ‘Am I ready?’ ” Kang said. “That's what they ask themselves. Now I know that I am, and I have to go to the next level.”