By T.J. Auclair
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Illinois -- When Danielle Kang turned pro in 2011, it looked like the sky would be the limit for the southern California native.
After a spectacular amateur career that included qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open at age 14 and winning the U.S. Women's Amateur in both 2010 and 2011, it seemed the now 24-year-old was more than ready for the next step.
Things didn't come as easily to Kang on the LPGA Tour as many would have thought. From 2011-2016, she compiled just eight top-10 finishes. The best of those was a third-place showing in 2012 Kingsmill Championship.
Heading into this week's KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Olympia Fields just outside Chicago, Kang was definitely trending up. She already had four, top-10 finishes in 2017, but was still missing that maiden victory.
With the sun shining bright and not a cloud in the sky on the 18th green at Olympia Fields early Sunday evening, Kang pulled off the rare two-for-one -- not only did she win for the first time in her career on the LPGA, but it also happened to be a major.
She birdied the final hole for a 3-under 69 to edge defending champ Brooke Henderson by one at 13-under 271.
"I feel fantastic, absolutely fantastic," Kang said. "Having that major championship on my resume, I don't know what it will do. But I do know that having the U.S. Amateur as majors and having a major win, it's amazing."
Kang admitted early in the week that she was intimidated by her first look at Olympia Fields, but settled down after developing a game plan with her brother, Alex, an accomplished player himself who plays on the Web.com Tour.
Alex had played the course before and provided input to his sister. She even texted him photos of certain holes to get advice.
And did it ever work.
Kang played the first 36 holes -- bogey-free -- in 8-under par.
She spoke briefly with Alex moments after the win.
"He said, 'You played good,'" she said. "He was telling me, 'Your putting was really, really great today and you were really solid.' He was just really proud. I was like, 'Thank you for your help.' Alex is the one that I called to map out the golf course. He's one of the people that I lean on for everything."
Kang went 21 holes, total, before making her first bogey of the week. That came on the par-4 third hole in the third round.
After a three-putt bogey on the 10th hole Sunday, it marked the first time all week that Kang was over par (1 over) for a round.
She responded in a big way, collecting four consecutive birdies to move three shots clear of Henderson.
On the 16th hole, moments after Henderson made a birdie, Kang was in trouble, but managed to can a 20-foot putt for an incredible par. Instead of her lead being cut to a single shot, she was two clear with two to play.
At the par-5 18th, needing a birdie to win after Henderson made birdie to tie her at 12 under, Kang hit the 3-wood of a lifetime from 233 yards out to within 20 feet of the hole. She nestled her first putt up to about 18 inches and moments later, she knocked it in for the highlight of her career.
"It was stressful," she said. "Every single shot was stressful. Every putt was stressful. I just kept trusting my own game and trusting in my putting. It's all about believing in what you can do."
Until Sunday, Kang had played in 30 major championships and had never once finished inside the top 10. Her previous best was a T22 at the 2013 KPMG Women's PGA Championship.
Now, however, Kang starts a new book on her career -- one in which she will forever be known as a major champion.
PGA.com, reprinted with permission
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