One Special Season: Haeji Kang Plays Her Way To LPGA
Article Courtesy of Duramed FUTURES Tour
Monday qualifying to get into LPGA tournaments is a tough assignment. And doing it often and well enough to improve playing status is an even tougher task. But Duramed FUTURES Tour member HAEJI KANG of Seoul, South Korea, has performed well enough this year in the one-day shootouts and tournaments she has played that she will be spending the rest of the year on the LPGA Tour.
Kang tied for 29th at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament last fall to earn LPGA Priority List Category 16 status for the 2009 LPGA season. To date, she has posted one top-five, two top-25 and four top-50 LPGA finishes as an LPGA rookie.
A winner at the 2008 Greater Richmond Duramed FUTURES Classic as a rookie professional, Kang, now 18, played in four Duramed FUTURES Tour events earlier this season, finishing tied for third in April at the iMPACT Invitational in Daytona Beach, Fla. But after the Tour's tournament in Kansas in mid-May, Kang hit the road with the LPGA and never came back.
She sat down with duramedfuturestour.com senior writer Lisa D. Mickey at the recent U.S. Women's Open Championship to discuss how the 2009 season has taken some dramatic turns for the second-year professional:
DFT: You started out the year with fairly low status on the LPGA Tour. What changed?
KANG: When I started out, I could only play in maybe eight events on the LPGA Tour, plus I could play in the Monday qualifying tournaments. I wanted to try and see how it went. If I played bad, I'd concentrate only on the Duramed FUTURES Tour. But I Monday-qualified for the SBS Open at Turtle Bay, and at the first tournament in Mexico, the MasterCard Classic, where I made the cut, that helped me a lot and gave me confidence. I ended up doing two Monday-qualifiers and got through both. After the LPGA reshuffled the player status, my status improved and I got into more events.
DFT: So, has this been an easy assignment this year on the LPGA Tour?
KANG: Laugter I don't think so. I went to Mexico again to Monday-qualify for the Corona Championship, but I got into the tournament. That was a good thing, but then my clubs didn't arrive until Wednesday night and I could not practice. I also didn't have my clothes and I wore the same thing every day. There was nothing I could do. I missed the cut by two shots, but my status was improving.
DFT: Did you get into more tournaments?
KANG: Yes. After the Corona Championship, I got into the LPGA Corning Classic, the LPGA State Farm Classic, the McDonald's LPGA Championship, the Wegmans LPGA, and the Jamie Farr [Owens Corning Classic]. I also qualified for the U.S. Women's Open and got into the RICOH Women's British Open. I really want to play the LPGA's events in Asia and go to Korea and Japan. My family might come see me play.
DFT: A number of players on this tour have LPGA membership, but often they struggle with the decision to play the LPGA's Monday-qualifying tournaments or to stay on the Duramed FUTURES Tour and try to earn LPGA membership by finishing in the top 10 on the money list. How did you decide what to do?
KANG: It was really hard to decide what to do, but after the reshuffle, I knew I could play a little more on the LPGA Tour. I was kind of worried and unsure. I wondered if I was good enough? Could I really do this? But I just concentrated on what I could do. I played well and did my best and I'm really happy with my results. I still can't believe it. I just wish to play good golf from now on.
DFT: You certainly played good golf at the Wegmans LPGA tournament, where you tied for fourth this year.
KANG: Yes, that was a surprise. And because I finished fourth [earning a sizeable check that pushed her into the top 125 on the LPGA's season money list], I got into the RICOH Women's British Open. This will be my first visit to England.
DFT: And this year's trip to the U.S. Women's Open Championship also was a first, wasn't it?
KANG: Yes. I tried to think of it as being the same as an LPGA tournament. I'm a rookie. I think I need to learn a lot of things from all the professionals. They are more mature than I am.
DFT: What has been the biggest change for you in going from the Duramed FUTURES Tour to the LPGA in one season?
KANG: Well, players on the Duramed FUTURES Tour are more friendly. They don't really talk here in practice rounds. Laugter
DFT: Maybe that's because where there's more prize money, there is more pressure?
KANG: I think so. My parents tell me all the time to relax and play my golf. I practice less here than on the Duramed FUTURES Tour because we have a lot of tournaments in a row. I get really tired. I never did exercise or run during tournaments, but a lot of players on the LPGA Tour do. I still have to learn that. Their effort is so great on the LPGA Tour. Now I know why they play so well. I think I need to do the same to be a world-class player.
DFT: You seem to have made the most of your experience on the developmental tour that got you to the LPGA.
KANG: I graduated from the Duramed FUTURES Tour. It was a very good experience for me. I changed my swing at the start of last year and I struggled a lot, but playing there helped me put the swing changes into competition. I was kind of scared because I missed the cut in my first two events in 2008, but it got better and then I won later in the season.
DFT: You also had six top-10 finishes last year and finished 11th on the money list as a 17-year-old rookie pro.
KANG: Well, there are a lot of good players. Last year, VICKY HURST was there. She hits it far, she wins a lot and she has a very good personality. Some players, when they're good, they are not so nice. I want to be good, but I want to still be nice. I think that is important.
DFT: Haeji, your English is so good. Where did you learn it?
KANG: I learned English in Australia. Most Korean golfers in Korea don't really go to school that much, but my dad was a science teacher and he wanted me to go to school. So when I was 11, I went to New Zealand with my mom for three years, and then we went to Australia for three more years. After that, I played in the fall Duramed FUTURES Tour Qualifying Tournament in 2007, and when I qualified, we came to the U.S. to play on the Tour.
DFT: Most women players from South Korea got into golf because of Se Ri Pak. Were you influenced by her?
KANG: She's my super-hero! I shot two under in the first round of a tournament this year and played the second day with her. I was really nervous and excited. I couldn't believe it because when I was young, she was on TV winning the U.S. Women's Open. But anyway, when I got to the first tee, I bowed to Se Ri. She asked me how old I was? We didn't talk a lot because it was the first time, but she was very friendly to me. I really respect her. I didn't play well that day, but I made the cut. A few tournaments later, we had dinner in Phoenix. Accidentally, we met in a restaurant and I got to join her.
DFT: So what has this 2009 season been like for you?
KANG: It's been a great year. I'm still learning and learning and I'll be learning for a long time. If I practice hard and concentrate, I think I can be very good.
DFT: You are No. 58 on the LPGA's season money list with earnings of $123,699 in nine events. Does that change a lot for you and your parents?
KANG: My goal was to make $100,000 this year and I made that goal and went past it. I want to buy my mom an iPhone. I want to get a new phone, too.
DFT: You and your parents [Joanna Kim and Pedro Kang] always seemed to have a good time traveling together on the Duramed FUTURES Tour. Is it still fun?
KANG: It's the best time of my life. My mom still cooks and my dad still drives the car and caddies. We are excited because if I stay in the top 60, I can qualify to go play the LPGA Tour events in Asia. It would be fun to go home as Haeji Kang, the LPGA member. But I also love America. Playing golf here is so much fun because of all the nice people. And at the Open, I was excited because I got to see my friends from the urame FUTURES Tour. I miss everybody, but I am also making new friends here.