Danielle Kang

On the Solheim Cup, Instagram stalkers and cooking with Michelle Wie

Danielle Kang doesn’t do anything quietly. As an 18-year-old phenom in 2011, she rocketed onto the scene with her second consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur title. She’s even taken her lumps in spectacular fashion: After being labeled as the LPGA’s next big thing when she turned pro in 2012, she went winless for nearly six painful seasons. Fitting, then, that her first victory was a major title at the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Her 112,000-plus Instagram followers know the adventure continues off the course, as she shares the highs and lows of life in the spotlight. It continued in this high-volume conversation, which ranged from Michelle Wie’s kitchen ban to the forward strategies of her Instagram stalkers.

Danielle Kang. Illustration: Kate Copeland
Illustration: Kate Copeland

From your U.S. Am wins through professional majors, you’ve always talked about how you enjoy the biggest stages. What makes them special for you?

I like excitement. I like when there’s energy and positive vibes. I like playing in front of a crowd. At the end of the day, we’re entertainers. You want to draw the people in and the fans to cheer. I don’t want to play the standard 9:45 a.m. tee time with nobody around; that’s when I like to practice and get my work done. When I’m playing, whether I’m on TV or on the golf course, I want people to enjoy what I’ve done. I want people to get as excited as how I feel.

I also like a challenge. Don’t get me wrong; every event is challenging and has its own personality. However, it’s just not the same feel. That’s something that I struggle with: I am all in or nothing. If I’m zoned in, I will give it everything I’ve got and people can tell. Once I check out, it’s very hard for me to check back in.

Speaking of stages, it’s a Solheim Cup year. Your first was 2017 and you raved about it. 

The Solheim Cup was absolutely incredible for me because people kept telling me I’m going to have the best time at Solheim and I just said, “Yeah, sure.” I actually kind of brushed them off. I wasn’t doubting anything, but I’ve played in the U.S. Opens since I was 14. I have played in the biggest stages of women’s golf, and I didn’t think that something could top what I’d seen until I went to Solheim Cup. It was absolutely incredible—the fans, the crowd, the energy.

And I love team events. I love having teammates. It’s just so fun. I’m not a very quiet, calm, mellow person. I like to have sparks. Golf doesn’t really match my personality in any way, unless you set the stage to match my personality, and the Solheim does.…That’s what lights my fire. I just love the vibe. I like when people yell and shout.

Can that be a double-edged sword? Do you struggle sometimes to find that same kind of charge in your life off the course?

No, because I’m already like that. I’m so dramatic. You could ask any of my friends. “Never a dull moment” is what they say. Whether I create them or they happen to me, it’s always an episode. I embrace that, though. My mom and dad always said, “Everything’s always OK.” In time, it will all be resolved, so you just can’t freak out. Whether I lose my luggage—I’ve lost my luggage eight times in one year—I don’t freak out. I go, “Whatever.” They’re all replaceable at the end of the day. So while it can all get dramatic with me, I try not to get too crazy about it.

How does that attitude translate to the course?

It’s different because we’re in an arena. And golf is just very quiet, calm and has etiquette. They say you can’t get that angry. You can’t show that you’re pissed. You can’t get too excited, because it’s only a Thursday. There are so many cans and cannots. In my opinion, that’s all perception. At the end of the day, you can do whatever you want. However people want to see you or perceive you, you can’t worry about them. I’m just me on the golf course.

I’ve definitely been fined on the golf course. [Laughs.] I’m pretty sure people have heard me say “Fuck!” on TV. It’s not that I’m an angry person, but hey, golf makes people mad. I’m going to be mad; I’m not going to hide it. And if it came out once, just know I’ve tried to calm it down for about five hours. When I do say “Fuck!” on TV, it’s because I just can’t handle it anymore. But just as quickly as I get mad, I’m quick to come back and be very positive about what we’re going to work on next.

That’s the opposite of what so many experts say about how the best play with an even keel. It’s better to be Dustin Johnson and flatline the entire round.

One hundred percent. That’s just not the type of player I am. I’ve tried to be super mellow and I can’t. Off the golf course, even with the drama, everything’s really OK with me. I just go with the flow. But I’m very different on the golf course. I want everything done my way. I know what I need to do.

Because at the end of the day it’s just you out there?

Yes, me and my poor caddie who has to deal with me all day. [Laughs.]

About that: It seems there is a running joke out there about the caddies you’ve gone through.

Yeah, I don’t know what that joke’s about. People say I fire a lot of caddies, but I haven’t had that many full-time ones. For awhile I didn’t have one full-time and went week to week, so maybe it came from that. But this is what I mean about perception. At the end of the day, I don’t care.

I will say that with caddies, I need a person to be by my side. Like I said, I love teammates. I don’t want to be left out there by myself. I’m out there alone all the time. Golf is such a lonely sport.…You’re by yourself talking to an inanimate white ball all day. And you’re basically upset with it the whole time. So I don’t look for the caddie that can just bring me a great number or say the right things. I want this to be a team.

What’s your schedule like during a tournament week?

I have a very repetitive schedule. My caddie knows I give him Monday for his day to walk the course. It’s very rare that we work together on Monday, just because it’s travel day and that’s when I’m probably sleeping; I like to sleep, but I don’t sleep very well on the road. When I’m up I like to practice putting and some wedges. That only takes a couple of hours and I don’t need my caddie for that.

On Tuesday we either go out very late or very early, because I play unbelievably slow then. I like to get things done on the golf course because a lot of the practice facilities don’t match the course conditions. I let people play through so I can take forever doing speed drills with the putter and work on wedge numbers. I’ve got to get that done because I’m usually in the pro-am for 18 holes on Wednesday.

Then Thursday and Friday I still try to get wedge practice in almost after every round if there’s time. I don’t really have a set thing after rounds; it’s just whatever I have to work on. Sometimes we’ll be out there until nine at night. 

What’s it like to win?

There’s nothing like it. It’s that high. In golf, you lose more than anything. No other sport in the world loses this much, and we lose every day.…So when you actually win, there is nothing like it. You know the worst part? You want more of it. Then you put yourself through all that work again just to get another shot at a win. But hey, that’s what we love about this game.

Why live in Las Vegas?

Growing up in Westlake was such a blessing and I loved it there. It was so hard to leave California. So the closest place to California that has no state income tax was Las Vegas. [Laughs.] A lot of players are in Texas and Florida. But my brother wanted to try it out here and it’s been great. I ended up buying a condo and a house. I like the golf courses out here; I practice at the Summit, which has absolutely amazing facilities.

And honestly I like the fact that it’s 120 degrees in the summer; I play really well in heat now. Plus I like that it’s windy and I can practice in that. Vegas is moody. I like it.

It’s also only a four-and-a-half-hour drive from L.A. and I actually have more friends come visit me in Vegas than when I lived in California. I’m a Vegas tour guide at this point. I feel like I should start getting a cut like a promoter.

Great places to eat there, too. Do you have some favorite places to eat on the road with the LPGA?

Not necessarily. I told you, I’m dramatic, so I’ve got to find what fits me that week. [Laughs.] Honestly, though, eating on the road is very difficult. I have a very sensitive stomach. I absolutely love sushi, but I can’t gamble with sushi when I’m playing tournaments. If I do go to a sushi place, I’m getting rice and something like chicken teriyaki. It’s pretty basic, but I’ve got to be careful.

Fun fact about me: I cannot cook. I do not touch anything in the kitchen. You can ask Michelle Wie about my cooking skills. Whenever I stay at her house, she does not let me in her kitchen. When we’re on the road, I always try to eat with my friends whenever they stay at a place that actually has a kitchen. I go over to Lydia [Ko’s] a lot to eat. I go over to Michelle’s. It’s very hard to find a home-cooked meal out there. 

Let’s talk about another peril of being out there. During your No Laying Up podcast, you asked people to stop sending pictures of themselves on Instagram.

You mean the dick pics?

Yes. That seems like a fair request. Did it work?

They did stop for a while, but recently I’m getting a lot. It’s annoying. I stopped checking the DMs because now people have been sending me videos instead of the pics. That’s another level and I can’t handle it. It’s totally not very smart to do. I don’t know why they do it, but I ignore them. Me yelling at them is not going to make a difference.…If it’s really weird, though, sometimes I tell Michelle. I go, “Oh, my God, look at this. Go to the DMs on my Instagram account.” She knows my password. [Laughs.]

Let’s completely shift gears. How is your work with UNICEF going?

I absolutely love it. I’ve wanted to work with them since I was a kid because they help children all around the world and they are so productive on how they do things. I’m the chairman for their golf classic.

There are so many things that they do under the umbrella of UNICEF: education, hunger, healthcare, all of that. The main thing that touches my heart dearly is hunger. I just don’t think anyone should ever be hungry. Malnutrition is just something that I can’t fathom, especially with how much food is wasted around the world. Don’t get me wrong: I waste food as well, but I’m trying to make a difference. It’s crazy: People spend $8 on an organic cookie when $1 could help save a child’s life.

I just believe that at the end of the day, awareness is everything. I’m trying to make UNICEF a part of who I am. When people think of my name and think, “She’s an LPGA player” or “She’s pretty nuts,” I also want people to think of UNICEF and the work that needs to be done.