Kang, Ko, Hull and Newbies

Everyone in LPGA Going Through Something – Kang Overcame Hers

There is a case to be made for a caveat to the question, “Who is the greatest golfer on tour?” If we live in the present moment, it would be difficult to bestow that title on someone who is not currently winning, unless they triumph in a disproportionate number of tournaments. There are such people, but for now, I’m making my case for the winner of the week being the greatest on this Sunday afternoon. A second caution about such comparisons is noting the time frames in which winners win. There are late bloomers, early bloomers, occasional bloomers, and everything in between. Take Danielle Kang, for example. She is this week’s greatest golfer, and she is a late bloomer, which means nothing in a discussion of Kang’s quality of golf.  She came through with her second career victory at the LPGA Buick Shanghai this past week. with a two-stroke edge over Lydia Ko, the ultimate “early bloomer.” Every player is going through something different at every point of a career, and we spectators don’t always know what it is. As it turns out, Kang has overcome every conceivable anxiety the game has to offer since a hot amateur start at fourteen.

Every club brings it own set of nightmares, from driver to putter. Kang went through them all, negotiating the  yips, yaps, and yops in every component of the game. At the 10th hole in Shanghai, her anxiety appeared as though it would drive her out of contention, but she had a tee-side chat with her caddie, who encouraged her to find a way to let the temper go and start afresh – excellent advice, as it turned out. Performance and anxiety go hand in hand, and players meet stress in different ways and at different times. Kang is now 26, and we’re finally seeing her emerge. The question of “Why aren’t you winning more?” was attached to Michelle Wie for a long time, and now it’s a standard Kang query. We shouldn’t ask it anymore. Considering the infinite variables in life, it’s a dumb question.

I read that Lydia Ko is in that youth to young adult transition, and is gradually figuring out who that new person is. Finishing second, even with Ko, is not a catastrophe. As an old teacher of mine once said, “Happens in the best of families.” I suspect that the hardest part of liberating the adult Lydia happened a year or two ago, and that now, she’s just continuing to play good golf, occasionally great. I’m just not sure that there’s a supermarket magazine special to be had out of her ongoing process. Unlike Kang, she was winning international events at 14. Now Kang can spend a little more time in the sun.

 

What did shock me was to see Charley Hull finish last in the weekend field. That goes against the laws of physics, but even that doesn’t spell disaster for the young Englishwoman. A competitive golfer plays and practices on so many days that Charley can quickly forget it ever happened. It is dramatic proof that golf is the real master here, and it gets everybody on any given day. Charley’s return to quality will, I’ll wager, take no more than a few days.

I noticed that just above Charley’s name on the opposite end of the list from Kang were the names of ten or more Chinese golfers playing in a tournament of their own region. Some were as high as 36 over par, but that’s not the point. For a nation determined to inhibit the growth of golf, these newbies are getting some pretty first-rate experiences against world competition. That step will refine their games so that in a few years, scores will be much lower. Breaking into a new environment in a game you love surrounded by big names is an exciting phase for a public career Who cares about the score? I hope they had a great time. Sure enough, at least one star will probably come out of that bunch, or the eight or nine other Chinese players scattered around the middle of the board. What they are going through is the fun part, without the expectations of instant victory.
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As they say, “Change we all like seasons” and that’s part of the beauty of golf – that silent question, “What can you with this ball in the place you’re in…right now? Can you get this thing in that hole in fewer strokes than anyone else, even if you’re nervous, out of sync, self-conscious, in the yips, yaps, or yops, duck-hooks, duffs and downhills?” Today it’s Kang vanquishing her demons. Next week, perhaps someone else will out-wrestle hers. Who knows where and when?

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