Some wins come easily, with the steady confidence of knowing the tournament is yours for the taking. Danielle Kang's one-shot victory over Jessica Korda at the Buick LPGA Shanghai was not one of those wins, by her admission.
“There wasn’t a single hole that I thought I won until the last putt dropped,” Kang said after earning her third career LPGA title.
Kang, the tournament’s defending champion, birdied the first hole of Sunday’s final round at Qizhong Garden Golf Club to take the lead over Korda, her teammate in the recent Solheim Cup. It was a good way for Kang to start the round, which happened to fall on her 27th birthday, but she didn’t make another birdie until the 15th hole. A steady stream of pars in between, and on the final three holes, gave her a two-under-par 70 to finish at 16-under 272 for the tournament. Mind you, she had to work for each one of those pars. Kang's usually strong ball-striking disappeared on Sunday. She missed six greens, and three times found herself in greenside bunkers. Aggressively aiming at pins left her with difficult short-sided chip shots. To her credit, she converted them all.
The result was instant feedback from work Kang did the week before the tournament with golfers close to her. Her swing coach is Butch Harmon, but Kang also works on her game with her brother, Alex, who plays Korn Ferry Tour events, and her boyfriend, Maverick McNealy, who is on the PGA Tour. A week before, McNealy cited advice from Kang as the reason he shot the best round of his young tour career. He repaid the favor shortly after.
“I went home last week, flew all the way back [to Las Vegas] from Korea and worked on my short game with my brother, and I’ve been working on my short game with Maverick,” Kang said. “My mom told me I needed my chipping to get better, and it’s definitely better.”
Relying on making up-and-downs from everywhere can be an exhausting way to win a tournament. It’s also an infuriating style to try to beat.
“She didn’t make any mistakes,” said Korda, who coincidentally wore the same outfit as Kang (above) on Sunday as she shot an even-par 72. “Every up-and-down, she made. She played flawless. If she made a mistake, she was right there almost chipping out. I just didn’t have an opening, and when I did have one I just didn’t capitalize. That’s just how sometimes it goes.”
Korda tried to create an opportunity on the 17th hole when she made birdie and Kang made par, bringing Kang's lead down to one. On the par-4 18th, however, Korda wasn’t able to make birdie. Kang lagged her birdie-putt attempt, leaving three feet for the win.
“I’ve never been more nervous than the last putt, for some reason,” Kang said, “but I made it.”