By Andrew Both
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Illinois (Reuters) – Danielle Kang counts several celebrities among her friends and she took a step toward entering the world of fame herself with victory at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship on Sunday.
With her dazzling smile, the photogenic and articulate 24-year-old Californian of Korean descent could be a marketer’s dream if she continues to hit the high notes on the course as well as she does on the piano.
At her victory press conference at Olympia Fields, Kang pulled out her smartphone when asked which of her famous friends she had heard from with congratulations.
“Dustin said ‘that’s how you’re supposed to play’,” she said as she scrolled through the messages, meaning men’s world number one Dustin Johnson.
“Wayne Gretzky texted me as well, Caitlyn Jenner, Marcus Allen,” she said, referring to ice hockey great Gretzky, Olympic decathlon champion (and transgender woman) Jenner and American football (NFL) Hall of Fame inductee Allen.
Kang made such celebrity connections as a regular player at Sherwood Country Club in the hills north of Los Angeles, where the membership over the years has included Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson and O.J. Simpson.
She is clearly comfortable hanging out with the rich and famous, but until Sunday had proven less self-assured when in contention in professional golf tournaments.
Batting 0-for-143 in terms of wins in LPGA Tour events, the twice U.S. Amateur champion took a share of the lead into the final round of the year’s second major, though it would be fair to say she was hardly an overwhelming favorite.
But Kang finally emulated Gretzky, Jenner and Allen by performing at her best in the clutch, a birdie at the par-five 18th clinching a one-stroke victory over defending champion Brooke Henderson.
Kang freely admitted she was not overflowing with confidence as she stood over her putt to win.
“Let me tell you, that was the hardest two-footer I’ve ever had to putt,” she said. “It was pretty nerve-wracking, but I just did it.”
What makes Kang more marketable than most, apart from her appearance, is that she is clearly intelligent and thoughtful, and not a golf-obsessed, one-trick pony.
She plays a mean piano at a level, she modestly admits, that might be considered the musical equivalent of being nearly a scratch golfer.
“I would be a good single-digit amateur on the piano,” she said. “I’m Asian; We’re going to have a piano in the house, right!
“We have all those classical little music books — Mozart, Vivaldi — all sitting at home. But I don’t play as well as my brother, though. He plays this one piece incredibly, and I’m still trying to learn it. I think Bach wrote it.
“When I’m at home I play quite often but I wouldn’t sit there and practice and grind.
“I just want to relax, and my dog’s barking at me. It’s just a lot of hassle.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Larry Fine)