OLYMPIA FIELDS, IL. – Danielle Kang and Chella Choi are regulars on the LPGA Tour but have only one victory between them on the premier circuit in women’s golf.
Still, they are the co-leaders in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – the second of the LPGA’s five majors of 2017. Both hit the 54-hole stop at Olympia Fields Country Club’s North Course at 10-under-par 203. Choi shot 67 in Saturday’s third round and Kang had 68.
Choi is in the hunt because of a caddie change. Her father, Ji Yeom Choi, is back on the bag this week, and Choi has taken the approach that “Father knows best.’’
“My Dad was going to retire to spend more time with my mother,’’ said Choi. “When he started as my caddie it was to save money, and I always had dreamed of having my Dad on the bag when I was an amateur.’’
They made a good team until his retirement as a caddie. Their break lasted seven weeks, then Chella was struggling with her game and called for help.
“I lost my confidence and asked him to come back,’’ she said. “I’m feeling very good now. He gives me confidence.’’
Choi played only 18 holes on the North Course – the site of many major championships, the most recent being the 2003 U.S. Open — in pre-tournament preparations. She has taken her father’s advice on every shot of every hole. That’s familiarized her with the course and clearly improved her status on the leaderboard.
Kang, who grew up in California, attended Pepperdine University and now resides in Las Vegas. She is downplaying her position at the top of the leaderboard.
“I’ve been working every day to get better, and I have to trust my game,’’ she said. “It would be incredible to be called a major champion, but I’m just trying to perform the best I can perform. I love the vibes of a major championship, but I’ve got to stick to my routine.’’
She said a change in attitude has help her improve, that change being “that winning isn’t everything.’’ Kang, though, has had calls of encouragement from three famous big-time winners – Wayne Gretzky, Caitlyn Jenner and Hollis Stacy.
Kang, 24, won back-to-back U.S. Amateurs in 2010 and 2011 but has yet to win on the LPGA Tour and her best finish in a major was a tie for 14th in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. Choi, 26, has one LPGA win, at the 2015 Marathon Classic. Her best finish in a major was a tie for fifth in the KPMG event in 2013, back when the tournament was called the LPGA Championship.
Jiyai Shin, who plays mainly on the Japan circuit, shot the day’s low score – a 64 – and is alone in third place, two strokes behind the co-leaders. In fourth is the defending champion, 19-year old Canadian Brooke Henderson.
“It’s the third day of a major championship, and any time you can see your name that close to the top is a really good feeling,’’ said Henderson, “especially when you know you have one day left. With a major championship it all comes down to the back nine on Sunday. It’ll be an interesting finish, and I’m just hoping that I’m a part of it.’’
Further down the list but not quite out of it yet are American stars Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson and newly-minted No. 1 So Yeon Ryu of South Korea. They’re all five shots off the lead at 208 and in a tie for seventh.