A self-confessed “control freak” on the golf course, Danielle Kang likes her ball to end up where she intended it to go.
That likely explains her underwhelming career record at the Women’s British Open, given the bumps, hollows and undulations on the event’s old links courses.
Maybe this year will be different for the form player in the women’s game.
Kang arrived at Royal Troon ahead of the first major of the pandemic-affected year as the No. 2 player after back-to-back wins in Ohio following the resumption of the LPGA Tour after the coronavirus outbreak.
Then, last week, came what was perhaps a significant breakthrough in her game with a tied-for-fifth finish in the Ladies Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club on Scotland’s east coast, which is a links course — albeit not pure links.
It should mean Kang, the winner of the PGA Championship in 2017 for her only major success to date, is a serious contender for the first time at the British Open where her best finish is a tie for 41st last year.
That was on an inland course at Woburn. Before last week, she missed the cut in her previous two starts on links courses in Britain, in the Women’s Opens at Kingsbarns and Royal Lytham in 2017 and 2018, respectively. She has failed to make the weekend in five of her nine appearances at the British.
“I got a good feel for links golf, the bounces and the rolls that we are going to get,” Kang said Tuesday about the Scottish Open, a warmup event for the British Open, where she wound up a shot off a four-way playoff.
“I mean, links golf, people know that it’s just going to be a little bit slower greens, subtle breaks, and accepting missed putts were a bit harder for me than normal.”
Indeed, it was on the greens where she struggled last week, and that’s what she has been working on most since arriving Monday at Troon, a course she has never played before.
“I’m used to just putting the way I do and if you miss 2- or 3-footers here and there, you freeze over them and that’s what was tough for me last week,” Kang said. “Other than that, I think I hit the ball quite well and went around the golf course pretty well. I’m really proud of how I took on links golf in general because my results in links golf hasn’t been great.”
More at home on the links — and in Scotland — is another American, Stacy Lewis, who won the British Open at St. Andrews in 2013 for her second and most recent major title and won the Scottish Open on Sunday for her first LPGA victory in nearly three years.
Whereas Kang said she is “uncomfortable” on links, the former top-ranked Lewis clearly loves it.
“I’m excited the way I’m hitting it,” she said. “Links golf, you’ve got to be able to control your golf ball in the wind and I did a pretty good job of that for four days.”
In a golf calendar that has been heavily reshaped because of the pandemic, the British Open has managed to hold its date and will be the first of four majors this year. The Evian Championship has been canceled and will return in 2021.
There will be COVID-19 testing for players and caddies but no spectators at Troon, which is hosting its first women’s major. The Ayrshire course staged the men’s British Open in 2016 when Henrik Stenson won a final-day duel with Phil Mickelson to win his first major.
“As a Swede, I have watched a re-run of the Stenson vs. Mickelson Open quite a few times,” said Joanna Gustavsson, who headed the qualifiers last week at the Renaissance Club and will be playing Royal Troon for the first time. “He made the course look easier than I am sure it is.”
In the last seven women’s majors, there have been six first-time winners.
Top-ranked Jin Young Ko won two majors in 2019 but will not be going a third of her career because of the coronavirus pandemic. No. 3-ranked Sung Hyun Park or No. 6 Sei Young Kim haven’t traveled to Scotland, either.
High winds and even thunderstorms are forecast for the tournament, which starts Thursday. Defending champion Hinako Shibuno of Japan will be in a group containing Brooke Henderson and Ashleigh Buhai going off at 12:49 p.m.
Laura Davies, who is 56 and won the event in 1986 before it became recognized as a major in 2001, will take the first tee shot at 6:30 a.m. in her 40th appearance at the British Open.
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