OLYMPIA FIELDS, Illinois – Danielle Kang’s one regret after her maiden LPGA triumph at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship on Sunday was that her father was not alive to see her become a major winner.
Kang, a two-times U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, took longer to win as a pro than many expected but finally closed the deal with a three-under-par 68 for a one-shot victory over Canadian Brooke Henderson at Olympia Fields.
K.S. Kang was unable to witness his daughter’s victory, however, having died of cancer in late 2013 near the end of her second year on the LPGA Tour.
“If I could wish anything, I would wish that my dad saw me win,” an emotional Kang told reporters, tearfully revealing a tattoo with the word ‘dad’ in Korean on the outside of her right hand.
“It’s been a really difficult road for me the past four or five years, and it’s life, though. You have to pick yourself up and keep working hard at it and then believe in what you’re doing and not letting yourself down.”
California-born Kang broke clear with four consecutive birdies from the 11th hole as her putter caught fire, but fell back into a tie with Henderson after bogeying the par-three 17th, where she found a bunker with her tee shot.
But Kang held her nerve at the par-five 18th, hitting two near-perfect shots to the heart of the green before two-putting to cap her victory with a closing birdie.
She finished at 13-under 271, while Henderson, whose eagle putt at the last stopped on the lip of the cup, had to settle for second on 12-under after a closing five-under 66.
“I took some extra time trying to read and get (the pace) right,” said Henderson, whose ball hit a couple of bumps en route to the hole and lost speed quicker than it might have with a smooth roll.
“Unfortunately I missed it by an inch but it was a great day. There was a little more pressure coming into this week knowing that I won last year. I really wanted to do it again and I gave myself the best opportunity to do that.”
South Korean Chella Choi, who started the final round tied with Kang, carded 71 to finish third on 10-under.
Earlier, a freight train rumbled past barely 50 yards from the first tee as Kang and Choi started the final round, a modest crowd of perhaps 200 people following the leaders, many more preferring to watch former child prodigy Michelle Wie.
Four hours later Kang had centre stage, and her thoughts were with her parents.
“I’m sure my dad was with me every step of the way like he usually is and I just am so glad that my mum was right outside the ropes,” the 24-year-old said.