In 2007, Danielle Kang’s brother signed her up for the U.S. Women’s Open qualifier only a year-and-a-half after she picked up the game. Incredibly, Kang played her way through local and sectional qualifying to make the U.S. Open field at age 14. Her response when asked how it felt to qualify was both blunt and hilarious: “I don’t know what this is for!”
Kang never strove for a career in golf—she wasn’t raised a golfer—and in this week’s episode of Henni and Hally Can’t Quit Golf, host Hally Leadbetter has a one-on-one chat with Kang about her committed, but arms-length relationship with the sport.
After Kang beat Jessica Korda to claim the 2010 U.S. Women’s Amatuer title, she played in all four LPGA majors as a freshman at Pepperdine. Most young golfers would consider that a nerve-wracking year. To Kang, it was a breeze.
“No, I wasn’t nervous,” she told Leadbetter. “I was nervous when I was trying to make a putt to win a TV off my dad—it was things like that.”
Kang’s honest perspective on golf sounds a lot like one of Henni and Hally’s previous podcast guests, Brooks Koepka. Like Koepka, Kang admits that she thrives off the competitive energy of the sport. She wasn’t motivated by a love of golf as much as she was by winning. Over the last couple of years, however, that has started to change.
“I loved the competition. The game—I learned to love it later. I was good at it, which made me like it. I probably learned to really love golf in the last four or five years,” Kang said. “I felt that golf was sometimes taking things away from me, but then I realized that it has given me so many opportunities. And I get to do something so cool: play golf for a living.”
Part of Kang’s conflicted mindset about the sport traces back to its impact on her mental health. She’s been open with both the media and her peers about living with anxiety, and she tells Leadbetter how much this new level of visibility has helped her.
“Being open about it helped. Sometimes we overlook what physical and mental pain can be, because it does exist,” she said. “If we get a cut it bleeds. But if we get a cut internally, we can’t see [it].”
In addition to talk of professional golf and mental health, the two dive into Kang’s clubbing appearances in Las Vegas, her close relationship with the Gretzky family, and the laundry list of changes she would make to golf.