Breakaway tours, first-time major winners, the return of Tiger Woods; 2022 was a seismic year for many golfers.
But few golfers had a season as life-altering life as Danielle Kang’s.
The American could not have had a better start, clinching her sixth LPGA Tour title at the first event on the calendar, the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. Days later, she finished just one stroke behind winner Lydia Ko at the Gainbridge LPGA.
Come April though, she had withdrawn from multiple events citing back pain. At the US Women’s Open in June, deeper reasons emerged: Kang revealed she had been playing the tournament with a tumor on her spine and would be taking a break from the sport.
It was a diagnosis she had known since withdrawing from the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii earlier, but she had not wished to publicize it.
The one-time major winner made her competitive return in late August, shaking off the rust to earn a respectable tied-17th finish at the CP Women’s Open in Canada. Since then, Kang has eight more events and a host of impressive displays – including three top-10 finishes – under her belt.
A “monumental” 2022 seems a long time ago now, and the 30-year-old is happy to keep it that way.
“That was kind of the last year of the twenties and I’m really, really glad to leave it behind,” Kang told CNN. “I feel that I’m going to learn new things and discover myself again in the thirties.
“Last year was a big momentum switch for me and I’m actually kind of glad everything that’s happened happened – the way I won at the beginning of the year, the way I finished out the year, the way I contended, coming back stronger than I thought I would.
“It was a very interesting year, very up and down, but I kind of want a bit more consistency this year and I think that’s what I’m striving for. I’m feeling great.”
In 2023, Kang is back firing on all cylinders – just ask Max Homa. Fresh off his sixth PGA Tour victory at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, the men’s World No.8 took aim at Kang, having just drawn level with her on titles.
“Shoutout to Danielle Kang … she said I need to catch up to her,” Homa told reporters.
“She’s got six (wins) and a major. I got six now, so I’m coming DK.”
But beneath the jabs, it’s all love between the two friends.
“He’s a great dude … it’s a friendly rivalry,” Kang said.
“I want him to play the best that he can play. He’s always been very supportive of women’s golf and I really appreciate that.”
Homa stars in Netflix’s “Full Swing,” a new fly-on-the-wall style docuseries that follows many of the top players on the PGA Tour. Indifferent to reality shows, Kang is not particularly jealous of her friend’s new-found TV stardom, but understands the popularity of similar series that have boomed in the wake of Netflix’s Formula One focused “Drive to Survive.”
“I think it’s always intriguing to see behind the scenes, especially where you’re just curious … the reality show works for a reason,” Kang said.
“I’m not a huge fan, but I’m sure the fans get to see behind the scenes a lot of things that they don’t (normally) get to see. So I think it’ll be popular for a certain demographic, but I’m kind of just, ‘whatever floats your boat.’”
Contending at the five majors is a key goal for Kang this season, as the World No.17 looks to add to her PGA Championship victory in 2017.
A one-shot victory over Brooke Henderson in Illinois secured the then-24-year-old a major title and her first professional win on her 144th LPGA start. Kang has since added five further LPGA titles yet despite four top-six finishes, another major triumph has so far proved elusive.
But there is also the added excitement of a looming Solheim Cup. Teeing off at Finca Cortesin in Spain in September, the 18th edition of the biennial team event represents – like the men’s Ryder Cup counterpart – the pinnacle of the women’s game.
And Kang has every intention of making the roster of US captain Stacy Lewis, seeking to avenge European victory in Ohio two years ago.
“I always say good golf takes care of everything, and for right now I think I’m pretty safe,” Kang said.
“So with that said, I can’t wait to play for Captain Lewis and I’m excited. I’ve never been to Spain, so that’ll be cool.”