July 3, 2017: This is not supposed to happen. No, first LPGA wins do not come in majors. No, untested players do not make four birdies in a row under back nine pressure. No, the new kid on the block does not birdie the last hole to win the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Aditi Ashok completed yet another impressive week on the LPGA with a T29 to record the best ever major finish by an Indian woman since the T27 by Smriti Mehra in 1998.
But Danielle Kang is not your run of the mill new kid. She’s the two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur winner everyone has been waiting to have a day like this. She was simply sensational Sunday at Olympia Fields, closing with a 68 to finish at 13-under-par 271 for a one-stroke victory.
What made it even more impressive is that she held off a hard-charging Brooke Henderson, who won this tournament last year at the tender age of 18 and closed birdie-birdie in this final round to apply the kind of pressure than has crumbled more than one professional. But Kang had no crumble in her.
“The three-putt on No. 10 was the turning point for me,” Kang said about a cringe-worthy missed 3 footer. “I said I’m going to learn from that and then I made four birdies in a row.” Just as important was a 21-footer to save par on No. 16. It was a gutsy effort by a 24-year-old who smiled her way around the course, winning hearts along the way.
“Having a major championship in my resume, I don’t know what it will do,” Kang said. “But I do know that having the U.S. Amateur as majors, and having a major win, it’s amazing.”
Chella Choi, who started the final round tied with Kang at 10 under par, three strokes ahead of Henderson, closed with a 71 to finish third at 274. Amy Yang picked up her 16th top-10 in a major without a win, finishing T-4 at 275 along with Mi Hyang Lee and Sei Young Kim. Inbee Park and Lexi Thompson were T-7 at 277.
As they turned to the back nine, Kang and Choi, who were playing together, and Henderson, in the group in front of them, were all at 10 under par. Kang slipped out of the lead with that ugly bogey then began the four-birdie run that gave her a three-stroke lead after 14 holes.
Kang’s guts and good humor were in full display down the stretch. On No. 13, she doubled over in laughter as she fanned her approach shot wide of the target, almost as if she knew what was to come – a made 20-footer for birdie.
On No. 14, she got a break when she clipped a tree and landed in the right rough. She took advantage of her good fortune when she hit a pure semi-punch to 7 feet for yet another birdie.
India’s Aditi Ashok carded one-under-par total to finish at T29.