__BARRINGTON, R.I.—__In my story from the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship that appears in this week's Golf World, I talk about how the biggest knock on Danielle Kang in years past has been that her image of how good a golfer she is has often been more inflated compared to just how good a golfer she actually was. That's not to say she hasn't been among the more talented players in year's past. It's just that there are times when she'd have you believe her shots don't slice, if you know what I'm saying.
Yet that performance she put on Sunday at Rhode Island CC in defeating Moriya Jutanugarn, 6 and 5, and claiming her second straight Women's Amateur title actually had me thinking that for the first time Kang might actually be underrating her game. The display Kang showed from tee to green was astounding. It was like you were watching a highlight reel rather than an actual make. As I mentioned on Twitter (@gwcampusinsider) during the final, it felt like a filling in a terribly boring game of Madlibs. ("Kang hits her approach to _ _ ft. Rolls in her _ _ birdie of the day.")
By my counting, for 31 holes I saw Kang hit three "bad" shots. On the 15th hole, her approach shot from the fairway was pushed right into a greenside bunker. On the 23rd hole (the par-3 fifth), her tee shot missed the green left in the rough, short sided. On the 26th hole (the par-5 eighth) her second shot landed short of the green by 20 yards and she flubbed her chip to the green, failing to actually get it on the putting surface.
And that's that. Every other shot seemed to be executed just right, no sign of the pulled iron shots that Kang had made in Friday's quarterfinals and Saturday's semifinals thanks to the soreness she was feeling in her back and ribs.
I don't know exactly know what active release therapy is, but that was the method of treatment chiropractor Dr. Ellen McNally performed on Kang Friday night to help ease the tension in Kang's body. It sure seemed to have done the trick come Sunday. Kang's performance was so impressive, I'm thinking of calling McNally to see if she can help me hit the golf ball that straight.
Some other thoughts from my week hard by Narragansett Bay:
- I have no problem with Kang's decision to turn pro. Obviously the college experience wasn't what Kang was looking for. The ending at Pepperdine last May was ugly, and Kang will forever be stuck with the label of having become academically ineligible—this despite the fact that she's actually a very bright woman. The truly disappointing part of it might be the effect that her departure had on her teammates, who had put in a lot of work during the spring and had their NCAA postseason hopes dashed by not having the team's best player available.
All this said, what I would be concerned about for Kang is the fact that the 18-year-old doesn't appear to have much of a plan for the next few months. When asked whether she has any starts in pro events lined up, she said nothing yet. She didn't elaborate much on whether she has tried contacting tournament director's for any invites. Maybe Kang was just playing coy—hopefully actually—because otherwise having known this was going to be her last amateur event for a few months now, you'd hope she'd have things buttoned up for her schedule between now and the second stage of LPGA Q school.
- There was the obvious disappointment on Brooke Pancake's face Saturday when she lost tight match with Kang in the semifinals, 1 up. The duo was all square going to the 18th hole and you really did get a sense that the match could go either way. That said, I hope Pancake, a rising senior at Alabama, takes solace in the solid play she displayed all week. For someone who had competed in only one tournament prior to the U.S. Women's Amateur (the Tennessee Open) because she was taking classes during summer school in Tuscaloosa, her game looked pretty impressive.
It was also inspiring to see Pancake play so well given the tough couple of months she's experienced. In June, her family home in Chattanooga was damaged in a fire. Pancake wasn't there at the time, and thankfully no one was injured, but it has made for a tougher summer on her mother and sisters. That of course comes on top of what happened in April, when a tornado ravaged her college town. Living in Tuscaloosa this summer, Pancake says the devastation is still very evident and that the place has a different feel as the community continues to try to rebuild.
- Anyone thinking Austin Ernst's victory at the NCAA Championship last May was a fluke is going to have to think again after her impressive week in Rhode Island, where she too reached the semifinals after having not played in any competition since her win at The Traditions Club. What impresses me most about Ernst is her grittiness. She hits the ball farther than you think given her relatively small frame, but it's her determination that is her biggest asset.
I also like the fact that she doesn't have any kind of attitude. She's carefree, as evident by the $5 sunglasses she sported on her head all week, as gaudy as you can find but the neon yellow frames went well with her LSU colors. And that's even after claiming the NCAA title. Winning hasn't changed her any just yet. Hopefully it won't in the future.
Oh, and Austin, better tell your family to clear out the first few weeks of June on their calendars. I think there is a international event in Scotland that you're going to be invited to that they might want to go see you play. #curtiscup
Not to make this a lovefest, but was also impressed with the Jutanugarn sisters, 17-yer-old Moriya and younger sib, Ariya, the reigning U.S. Girls' Junior champion. Nice girls who appeared to be tired after a five-month golfing odyssey in the U.S. but also appeared to have enjoyed their stay. Both have said they would like to play college golf in the future; Moriya has two more years of high school in Thailand. I'll be curious how aggressive any college coaches will be in the recruiting of these two. I can imagine visions of what happened at Florida in the fall 2003 with__Aree__ and Naree Song might make some skiddish.
One non-Women's Amateur thought: Newly crowned PGA champion Keegan Bradley's best ranking in college golf while playing at St. John's from 2007-08 was 31st according to Golfstat. Was he a super star? Obviously not. But the college system worked superbly for him. It allowed him to develop his game in a pressure-free* environment and continue to fuel his passion for the sport. Then, when he turned professional and had to scrap through the first few years on mini-tours, he had the resolve to know that he could hang in there and work to create his opportunity. *
** pressure-free meaning that his tournament results didn't equate to money earned, which would equate to being able to pay the rent, bills, and his overall lifestyle*>
Without college golf, Bradley would have been throw into the world of mini-tours likely with less self-esteem and a far greater potential for early failure to become a deterrent to future success. The lesson from this is that college golf isn't all about producing All-Americans; it's about developing people on and off the golf course.