Golf: Setbacks cannot break Danielle Kang’s indomitable spirit

Since making a return to competitive golf in August last year, Danielle Kang has recorded four top-10s in her last 11 events. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE – Danielle Kang just does not know how to quit. Since turning professional in 2011, she has faced several setbacks from personal tragedy to illness in a career that has seen her win six LPGA Tour titles, including a Major.

A decade ago, she lost her father K.S. Kang, who had been her caddy, to cancer. In 2022, Kang was forced to take time off golf as she battled a spinal tumour.

Coming back from surgery to remove the tumour was not an easy process for her, said Kang, 30, on Tuesday ahead of this week’s Aramco Team Series Singapore.

She added: “There’s been a lot of drama in my 20s and I just didn’t want another factor to affect my journey to be the best that I can be, the best in the world and accepting that challenge was rough for me. I just threw my hands up and said enough was enough.

“There’s been so much in my life that I didn’t want to deal with, to be honest, whether it’s sickness to family to losing family members and now this? I’m like, are you kidding me? Because it was just battle after battle, but it’s not something I can’t overcome.”

The world No. 14 American is one of the leading names, alongside top-ranked Lydia Ko, in town for the three-day US$1 million (S$1.35 million) tournament at Laguna National Golf Club. It is part of the Ladies European Tour and will feature individual and team events held simultaneously.

The team category is contested over 36 holes over Thursday and Friday with the best two scores counting, while the individual event is a 54-hole stroke play competition. There are 26 teams, with each comprising three professionals and one amateur.

Making a comeback was tough for Kang. There were times during her recovery and rehabilitation when she could not move.

But she eventually began practising again. There were some days when she could hit only a handful of shots while she could do more on others.

One thing that kept her going was the encouragement of her mother Grace Lee.

Kang said: “It was something that my mum said to me, that if there’s anybody that can do it, it’s you and she’s right.

“It’s just that sometimes it’s hard to keep fighting but if you find the joy of it and the results of it, I want people to know that no matter what it might be – it could be a job, a home, if you keep working towards what you want to, you’ll always make it out.

“There’s always going to be another challenge. I’m sure something is going to hit me sooner or later but it’s how I deal with it, how I handle it.”

She returned to competitive action at the CP Women’s Open in August, her first event since the US Women’s Open in June.

Since then she has registered four top-10 finishes in the last 11 events, including a runner-up finish and two tied-third placings. One came at the HSBC Women’s World Championship at Sentosa Golf Club earlier in March.

But even after some decent performances, Kang, who spent some time in South Korea recharging after the HSBC event, is not too fixated on her results.

She said: “I’m still on my way of coming back. It’s just going to be a part of my life and I think I came back earlier than I was supposed to, but my scores showed others (I could be competitive). I was finishing second, going to play-offs and finishing third. But the biggest lesson I learnt was I’m not trying to base myself as a golfer by the result of how I ended up.”

Kang, who made her first appearance in the Aramco Series in New York in 2021, is looking forward to the format again.

“I’ve always thought it would be really cool to have a team series in golf in general,” she said.

“It’s interesting to play with different players – it is a bit different playing in a competition with an amateur you don’t know and two other players you’re not really familiar with, but I’m excited to play this one.”

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