ORLANDO, Fla. – Danielle Kang doesn’t believe in omens.
So, when she kicked off 2022 by making a hole-in-one – her 13th (!!!) in 29 years of life – she looked at the ace as just that, an ace.
“I just thought it was pretty cool to make a hole-in-one on the first day of the year,” said Kang, who holed her tee shot on TPC Summerlin’s par-3 eighth during a New Year’s Day round with PGA Tour player David Lipsky.
“Yeah, I mean, how about if you just trip over a curb. You're not going to say that's a bad omen for the entire year, right?”
Kang begins what is her 11th season on the LPGA at this week’s Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions with a similar mindset. She's focusing solely on the things that she can control and not getting too far ahead of herself. Instead of sitting down with her coach, Butch Harmon, during the offseason and jotting down a list of overarching, result-oriented goals for the year, she’s taking a more micro-view, specifically with her body and mind.
By the time Kang arrived at last year’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, she was physically spent, down weight and muscle mass, and had lost significant speed – and more than 20 yards of distance – with the driver. While her power has since returned, she knows it won’t stay that way without a week-to-week effort, dedicated and detailed, in the gym and practice, both at home and on the road.
“I think we're more focused on how I feel and where my body is to be able to do the swing he's taught me, to be able to produce the speed that I can produce on the range,” Kang said. “I sometimes don't … and I'm swinging probably 7 mph slower. Those are the things we're trying to be consistent with. We can't focus so much on the results – becoming blank, or I have to win blank – I mean, at the end of the day I just have to get consistent and feel comfortable every week that I play.
“I think figuring out my routine on the road, figuring out my workouts a bit better … just being able to fire and engage and be efficient.”
Historically, Kang has played poorly in cold weather. “We can all look at my stats. I miss the cut almost every year in the British Open,” said Kang, who in 11 starts at the AIG Women’s Open has made just five weekends while posting zero top-25s.
“But I'm trying to change that,” she added.
So, when temperatures dipped in Las Vegas last month, she forced herself onto the golf course. Forty degrees. Winds of 30 mph.
“I tried to keep playing because my caddie's dream is to win the British Open,” Kang said, “so I need figure out how to play in the cold and warm up as fast as I can in the morning so that my driver is not ready to go by the 15th hole.”
It’s all a concerted effort, Kang says, to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Whether that is playing in the cold or competing on an unfamiliar course. She’ll have to do both this week in chilly Orlando at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, which hosted an LPGA event last year before taking over as the Tournament of Champions host from Tranquilo Golf Club, a resort layout that is far less challenging than Lake Nona, where a bevy of tour pros live and sharpen their skills.
“Normally, I'm always ready to come out of the gates and ready to just burst through the door,” said Kang, who missed the cut last year at Lake Nona and doesn’t recall much about the course.
“So, I am pretty stressed out with the golf course starting first week.”
Kang admits she’s “always uncomfortable,” and that she’s been working recently with her mental coach to “have that second or two seconds of just comfort and bringing back to the present moment.”
Perhaps meditation will help. Kang is staying with Amy Yang, her fellow LPGA pro and Lake Nona resident, this week, and Yang forced Kang on Monday night to meditate and “stare at nothing for 20 minutes.”
“That was different,” Kang said. “She made me sit there. Took my phone away. Everything. I just, I don't know how she does it, but things like that I have to work on.”