Editor’s note: This story originally published in the Charlotte Observer on Aug. 16, 2010.
Danielle Kang had a simple request of her father, K.S., before she leaned over the 4-foot birdie putt on the 17th green that would win her the U.S. Women’s Amateur on Sunday at Charlotte Country Club.
If she made it, would he get her a new television?
He’s in the telecommunications business in Korea, but his daughter, a rising sophomore at Pepperdine University, recently moved into a new house with a bigger bedroom, and she wants a television.
“He said, ‘I’ll get you a TV,’” Kang recalled after her 2 & 1 victory over Jessica Korda of Bradenton, Fla.
Kang’s victory on the humid Sunday was easily the biggest of her career. She didn’t take up golf until she was 12, five years after she quit taekwondo, where she’d already earned a second-degree black belt and had a teaching certificate.
She qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open as a 14-year-old and didn’t realize it was a major championship until someone told her. She thought it was just another tournament her brother, Alex, had entered her in.
Kang was stroke-play medalist in the 2009 Women’s Amateur, and she was relentless at Charlotte Country Club on Sunday, rallying from a 1-down deficit through 28 holes to win.
“It’s so awesome,” Kang said. “I didn’t know why people would cry when they won stuff. Now I do. It’s like, ‘You did it. It’s great.'”
Kang birdied the first two holes Sunday morning and took a 2-up advantage into the lunch break after the first round.
She had talked to her putting coach, Tony Kewal, on Saturday night and he’d advised her to slow her stroke. It worked beautifully through the first 18 holes.
After the break, Kang felt her stroke get quick and found herself trailing with the holes beginning to run out. “I did panic,” she said.
Her father/caddie advised her to ignore what Korda was doing and pretend they were playing a father-daughter stroke-play match. It worked.
Korda made only one significant mistake after the break and it cost her.
At the par-4 16th, Korda, who had consistently out-driven Kang, left her tee shot 200 yards from the hole with her ball sitting on a slight upslope.
Trying to get at a hole cut on the left corner of the green, Korda pulled her long iron shot into a bunker, the only green she missed in regulation in 17 holes in the afternoon.
“I needed to make something happen, ” Korda said. “I took a risk and was not rewarded.”
She blasted 15 feet past the hole, and when she failed to save par, Kang had a 1-up lead.
Moments later at the par-3 17th – a hole Kang’s opponents had birdied in three straight matches to force her to the 18th – the champion finally got her payback.
She stuffed her tee shot to within 4 feet of the hole, and Korda nearly matched her, hitting it to 10 feet.
When Korda’s birdie putt burned the left edge and stayed out, Kang’s championship moment had arrived.
Sensing what was about to happen, Korda’s father/caddie, Petr, pulled his visor off before Kang putted, then walked to congratulate the champion and her father.
Korda played her six matches in a combined 20-under par but finished second. Kang made five birdies in the morning and four more in the afternoon.
“Danielle was making birdie after birdie,” Korda said. “She was making birdies on top of my birdies. She was making birdies before my birdies. It was a birdie barrage.”
For Kang, it was validation of years of hard work.
“It’s not a surprise, it’s exciting,” Kang said. “It’s like I finally accomplished this. It’s one down and hundreds more to come.
“I’ve worked hard to get here.”