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(Yonhap Interview) Korean-American golfer Danielle Kang eager to win LPGA event in 'motherland'

2017/10/11 09:06

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By Yoo Jee-ho

INCHEON, Oct. 11 (Yonhap) -- LPGA golfer Danielle Kang may have been born in San Francisco, but her love for South Korea, the birthplace of her parents that she readily calls "motherland," runs deep and wide -- so much so that she'd like nothing more than to win the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship this week in Incheon, just west of Seoul.

For the 24-year-old, a win here would be just as big as her first major title, the KPMG Women's PGA Championship from July this year.

"Every year, I just can't wait for this tournament," Kang told Yonhap News Agency after her practice round Tuesday on Ocean Course at Sky 72 Golf & Resort. Fluent in both Korean and English, Kang switched seamlessly between the two languages during the interview.

"This is my favorite tournament, after the KPMG Women's PGA Championship and the U.S. Women's Open," Kang said, referring to two of the five LPGA majors. "I absolutely love Korea. I love the fans here. They're so passionate, and I feed off their energy."

   In particular, Kang said South Korean fans are so knowledgeable of the game that they know a good shot when they see one.

"I love how fans here get into it so much, as if they were playing in the tournament themselves," Kang added. "And when players make difficult par saves, Korean fans recognize that, and they give such enthusiastic cheers. They're so happy for you. I love the vibe here."

  

Korean-American golfer Danielle Kang poses for pictures after an interview with Yonhap News Agency at Sky 72 Golf & Resort's Ocean Course in Incheon on Oct. 10, 2017. (Yonhap) Korean-American golfer Danielle Kang poses for pictures after an interview with Yonhap News Agency at Sky 72 Golf & Resort's Ocean Course in Incheon on Oct. 10, 2017. (Yonhap)

Kang called herself a "high-energy" player who'd much rather compete among raucous spectators than quiet, gentle crowds. That's why she had a blast playing for the winning United States team at the Solheim Cup -- the biennial match play competition pitting Americans against Europeans -- in August in Iowa, where she and the rest of her U.S. teammates had the backing of the partisan fans.

But Kang's 2017 season will always be defined by her breakthrough win at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship. A former amateur standout, Kang hadn't even so much as sniffed a major title before that victory, with no top 10s in her 30 previous major championships, with 10 missed cuts.

Kang said a win is "an ultimate validation of what you've been doing," and she can never understand people who say winning hasn't changed their lives.

For Kang, the change was particularly dramatic, for it lifted a huge weight off her shoulders. Kang, a two-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion, said she'd always wanted to win one for her father, who passed away from cancer in 2013. She has the Korean word for "dad" tattooed on the outside of her right hand.

"Not winning while my dad was alive has been the biggest regret, and it carried on for a few more years (after his passing)," she said. "Finally winning, I could breathe again. I am free. I love golf, and I want to play, but it's been an obsession. Now there's inner happiness for myself. People say they get a monkey off their back. This was a gigantic rhinoceros, elephant, mammoth off my back."

   Kang admitted "my gas tank was empty" after that major victory, and she just wasn't ready to compete at the next major, the U.S. Women's Open, which took place two weeks after the KPMG event. She missed the cut there.

In this Associated Press file photo taken Aug. 19, 2017, Danielle Kang (L) laughs with her U.S. teammate Michelle Wie before their match in the Solheim Cup in West Des Moines, Iowa. (Yonhap) In this Associated Press file photo taken Aug. 19, 2017, Danielle Kang (L) laughs with her U.S. teammate Michelle Wie before their match in the Solheim Cup in West Des Moines, Iowa. (Yonhap)

"I wasn't used to so much media attention, and I had no time for practice," Kang said of the whirlwind following her maiden major win. "Winning the major was great, but honestly, I wasn't ready to compete afterward."

   But Kang is now back on track. She was one of the best Americans at the Solheim Cup, posting a 3-1-0 record to collect three points in a 16 1/2-11 1/2 victory. After missing three straight cuts and withdrawing once after her major win, Kang tied for 18th at the Evian Championship in mid-September and then tied for 24th at the McKayson New Zealand Women's Open two weeks ago.

Now that she's back in South Korea, Kang is getting her annual Korean food fix. She said she's always liked Korean food but has grown even more "obsessed" with it in recent years. Once a lover of seafood pasta and pizza, Kang now always goes for Korean food over Western food if she has a choice.

The list of Korean dishes that she'd tasted Tuesday was long and diverse, and Kang said she has to start watching her weight now.

With her love of the fans and local cuisine, Kang said she'd wanted to play in a Korea LPGA Tour event this year too, so she could have another chance to be in the country.

"I could've tried to make it happen, but it wasn't as easy as I thought it'd be," she said. "I didn't know how to approach it very well."

   For now, Kang is happy to be competing at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship for the sixth consecutive year. This is the 10th edition of the tournament at Sky 72 Golf & Resort's Ocean Course, adjacent to Incheon International Airport. Since 2008, there have been three South Korean champions -- Choi Na-yeon in 2009 and 2010, Amy Yang in 2013 and Baek Kyu-jung in 2014 -- and one American winner, Lexi Thompson, in 2015.

jeeho@yna.co.kr

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