By Jeff Babineau
BOCA RATON, Fla. – Danielle Kang is on a roll, one of those hot runs when a player almost can ‘will’ great things to happen. She didn’t have a whole lot going on during the second round of the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio late Friday afternoon, then decided to throw down a challenge to herself.
“Let’s get to double-digits under par” she thought as she stood in the fairway at the par-5 eighth hole, her 17th hole of the day. Mind you, she’d played her previous six holes in 1 over par in windy and cool conditions, and was only 2 under for the round.
Soon the magic followed: Driver, 6-iron and wedge to 7 feet at No. 8; 7-iron from 155 yards to 10 feet at 18. Two closing birdies, a round of 4-under 68, and Kang stood tall at 11-under 133, shoulder to shoulder with Lydia Ko, who had shot 2-under 70 in the morning wave.
“I just really wanted to get to the double digits,” Kang said. “That was kind of my goal today, so I was happy to do that.”
Kang has been achieving lots of goals at the outset of a fresh LPGA season. Mostly she has been able to stay in the present and do her best not to let anything deter her from a positive attitude. She won the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona in cold temperatures last weekend after working on playing in the cold during her offseason in Las Vegas. On chilly mornings when others would not bother to get out of bad, she made her way to the range, experimenting with how many layers she could wear and still swing freely.
When she missed a couple of short-range putts on her incoming nine on Friday at Boca Rio, it rolled right off her. And when the time came to do something special, she stepped up. Her 68 marked her sixth consecutive round in the 60s to start the season.
“I’m just proud of the process,” said Kang, a six-time LPGA champion ranked third in the Rolex Rankings. “It’s not just about today or tomorrow, or this week or last week. It’s kind of being able to keep the consistency up and working on what I need to work on to get to where I want to get to.
“It’s going to take some time, but I’m proud that I’m executing and working on the things correctly, and kind of trusting what I’m doing. That’s hard to do a lot of times.”
Ko, 24, is a gifted player who won her first LPGA title when as a 15-year-old. She has endured leaner times, too, but regained needed confidence last season after winning the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. She seems to be in a great place, and, despite having to grind out a round of 2-under 70, really seemed to enjoy herself.
She could do little but smile sheepishly when a 33-foot putt straight up the hill at the par-4 14th crashed into the back of the cup and vanished. Those are the good types of things that are happening. A week ago, she struggled to put her home greens at Lake Nona, and this week a new putter is in tow. It is called a Ping Ketsch – as she notes, as in “catch fire.”
“Kind of seeing something new sometimes, I feel like it brings a little bit of a different energy,” Ko said. “To kind of have putted well yesterday (in a 63), I thought it was a good to debut for the putter. At the end of the day all I can do is put a good roll on it. If it goes in, great; if not, you’re onto the next.”
England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff birdied three of her first five holes than ran off 13 pars to shoot 3-under 69 and move to 7-under 137, four shots off the pace. Also at 7 under is Japan’s Yuka Saso (70), last summer’s U.S. Women’s Open champion. A group at 6 under included Nasa Hataoka (71), who was runner-up at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio two years ago, and France’s Celine Boutier, who posted the day’s best round, a bogey-free 67.
Seventy-four players at 1-over 145 and better made the cut into the weekend at the LPGA’s first full-field event of the season. Among those earning a tee time on the weekend was World Golf Hall of Fame member Karrie Webb, a 41-time winner who shot 71 in her first LPGA start since late 2020. World No. 1 Nelly Korda shot 72, and is at 4 under through 36 holes.
Temperatures are expected to cool significantly over the weekend, dipping into the 40s on Saturday and possibly lower on Sunday. Kang sees it as just one more obstacle to overcome.
“Yeah, for right now, just focused on finishing well today,” Kang said, “and then tomorrow I don’t know what the weather is going to be. We can all predict, but when I wake up and go outside and see how cold it is, I’ll figure out how to dress and then attack it tomorrow.”