With improved short game and support from McNealy, Kang wins again in Shanghai

Randall Mell

Danielle Kang won an All-American duel Sunday at the Buick Shanghai.

In a tight and tense final round, Kang successfully defended her title, overtaking Jessica Korda in the opening leg of the LPGA’s Asian swing.

Afterward, Kang talked about the strength of her support system.

She credited her mother, her brother, her coach, her caddie, and her boyfriend, PGA Tour pro Maverick McNealy, for making her 27th birthday memorable.

Last weekend, McNealy said Kang’s advice helped him close the Houston Open with a PGA Tour career-best 65 for his best finish on Tour (T-17). Kang said McNealy returned the favor, helping keep her calm this weekend.

“We both work on a lot of similar things, but we keep each other positive,” Kang said. “We want each other to be better and perform the best we can.”

Kang said a long-distance chat with McNealy was especially helpful on her way to the tee before Saturday’s third round.

“I wasn’t feeling like myself yesterday, before my tee time, and I was talking to him on FaceTime, up until tee off,” she said. “Things like that, calming each other down, and talking through what you’re feeling ... just to tell somebody that understands what you’re going through.”

Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai

Kang was bogey-free in the final round, shooting a 2-under-par 70 to finish at 16 under overall, breaking her own tournament record. She finished a shot better than Korda, who closed with a 72.

Notably, Kang, who works with coach Butch Harmon, kept her scorecard clean, getting up and down with a refurbished short game. She saved par all six times she missed greens in the final round. Her work around the greens all week was key to her third LPGA title. She said her mother, Grace Lee, told her she needed to work on her short game. So, Kang went to work on it with extra help from brother, Alex, and from McNealy.

“It’s definitely better,” Kang said.

The victory marks back-to-back titles for the Americans, upping their total to four in individual stroke-play events this year;  American Cydney Clanton’s also teamed with Thailand’s Jasmine Suwannapura to take the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational.

Kang started the day a shot behind Korda but birdied the first to take the lead when Korda opened with a bogey. At the end, Korda missed a 30-foot birdie try, leaving Kang to complete a two-putt par for the victory.

“I couldn’t get anything going,” Korda said. “Everything was half-shots. I was either short, or I was long.”

Kang hugged her caddie, Olly Brett, and then got a celebratory dousing on the 18th green.

“She played flawless,” Korda said. “If she made a mistake, she was right there, almost chipping out.”

Korda did have a chuckle with Kang when they saw each other before the start of play. They were both adorned in the same attire, scripted by Adidas, with dark blue tops and light blue skirts. They matched scores most of the day, but Korda’s round of three birdies and three bogeys left her frustrated.

“It was one of those days where it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess,” Korda said.

For Kang, it was a memorable birthday.