Danielle Kang lost in a playoff but still pulled off the most inspirational story of the weekend
It was Danielle Kang’s brother who broke the news in June. At the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles, Alex Kang posted on Instagram that his sister was playing with a spinal tumor. Until then fans understood the 29-year-old LPGA veteran was suffering from back pain, but it wasn’t until that post that they knew the seriousness of the problem. She made the cut that week, finishing T-63, then stepped away from the game to undergo treatment.
Three months later, Kang returned to competition and in her third start back, last weekend’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, she made a run at winning her seventh career title, falling in a playoff to teen sensation Atthaya Thitikul. Kang was in tears after the finish, but they were tears of joy.
“I don't think I've ever cried by losing,” said Kang, who shot a final-round 64 that ended with fireworks. Kang holed out a 40-yard chip on the 18th at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Ark., for eagle to take the lead at 17 under. She knew it was good the moment she hit it, chasing it up the hill to see where it ended up. Her celebration was huge, fitting for an athlete feeling once again what it’s like to create a moment of greatness after months of wondering if that would ever happen again.
“There was part of me that I didn't think I would ever play again or contend, but here I am. I'm not that far off and I'm happy about that,” Kang said.
Behind her, Thitikul made birdie on 17 to pull level with Kang. After Thitikul’s par on 18, the two went to a playoff. Thitikul’s birdie on the second playoff hole sealed the 19-year-old Thai rookie’s second LPGA win.
But this loss felt like a win for Kang, too.
“Honestly, it's been hell,” Kang said of her journey through diagnosis and her undisclosed treatment for the tumor.
As to how she got through it and how she continues to manage, Kang gives all credit to the people around her. She’s very close with her family, her brother, Alex, and mom, Grace Lee. Her coach, Butch Harmon, has also been a key component since they began working together in 2018.
“I didn't persevere. People around me did. I'm just so thankful for that,” Kang said. “Sometimes you have that fear of like, Am I going to play as good again or can I play again or is this … are we at the end? All those thoughts crept into my mind. We had to work different ways to hit the shots. It was wild. So, what I did to get here to finish, to even contend is a win for me.”