She’s the hottest player on the planet and, even though the rankings haven’t caught up, arguably the best female golfer in the game. But it’s taken Danielle Kang a long time and a lot of work to accept her place at the top.
Much of that work has been near her home in Las Vegas with her boyfriend, Maverick McNealy, and her coach Butch Harmon.
“She’s a very hard worker and incredible competitor, to the point where she can be annoying to the other players,” Harmon told LPGA.com. “I like how competitive she is. And during this COVID lockdown we’ve been able to do a tremendous amount of work. We looked at all her stats and looked at what her strengths were, what her weaknesses were, and worked on things we could improve. Mostly, though, we worked on her mental side and convincing her of how good she was.
“She has been known in the past to get down on herself and not play her best. Everything that we’ve been working on has been to let her know how good she is. I kept harping on that, telling her she had to believe that she was good. Now she believes it. She knows she’s the best woman golfer in the world and she wants to be ranked No.1 in the world. And she will be.”
Kang acknowledged the work, saying, “If anything, it's motivated me even more to work on the things I want to get better at. Some (people) have said that hard work does pay off; that they are proud of me and that they are very excited for me. The support I have around me is really important. Without them, I won't be where I am.”
“She really works hard. I mean, really hard,” Harmon said, emphasizing the words. “I worked a lot with Suzann Pettersen and she reminds me a lot of Suzann – a real competitor who wants to succeed.
“She and Maverick being boyfriend and girlfriend helps as well,” Harmon said. “Living here in Vegas, she goes out and competes with a lot of tour players. She says to a lot of (the Korn FerryTour)players,‘No wonder you’re not on the (PGA Tour), you can’t even beat me.’ She goes right at those guys.”
“I'm normally intense,” Kang said. “I’m normally very single-minded on the task that I'm doing. I just want to give it all I've got in whatever I do. Sometimes I'll achieve and sometimes I won't, but as long as I've given 110% effort, I don't have any regrets. That's my attitude in anything I do.”
According to Harmon, some of those areas that required 110% effort were her fairway woods and her short irons.
“We’ve worked a lot on consistency and controlling the ball through the air with short irons,” he said. “Her pitching and chipping have improved tremendously. One good thing about this pandemic is that we had a lot of time to work on that. I played a lot of golf with her and we worked a lot on strategy – why was she hitting this particular shot and what was she thinking.
“When she finally started back, I told her that the hardest thing she was going to deal with was that on Tuesday she was going to be ready. I said, ‘You’re going to be amped up because you haven’t shot worse than 65 or 66 in a month and a half, so you’re going to be ready to go.’”
Like many students Harmon has worked with, including Tiger Woods, patience is not Kang’s strong suit. The knock on her has been how hard she can be on herself, often beating herself up.
That is changing. When discussing the challenges presented by links golf these next two weeks in Scotland, Kang said, “Acceptance is going to be toughest for me. The shots I expect to end up a certain way but I don't really have control of that over here, that's going to be tough for me, where if I hit a great shot and I end up in a place that I don't want to be. But I just have to let it go.
“The secret that great players have is that the last shot never happened,” Harmon said. “They forget about it and move on. Two players I’ve had great success with, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, two guys who had a lot of things happen to them on the golf course, they never let it bother them. It’s like it never happened. It took a lot of work to get Danielle to that point but she’s getting there.”
“I am still really hard on myself,” Kang said. “I am very intense during practice rounds. People may think that I'm upset or something but actually I am just a very intense person. But instead of getting down on myself and being hard on myself and saying that I could have done better, I find ways to make it better.
“Approaching it in a positive way and giving yourself positive reinforcements has been good. But I'm a realist. There are things that I have to always work on and get better at. Looking at statistics, analyzing your game, being very introspective about how you are on and off the golf course, things like that have definitely elevated my golf game.”