Both ends of the range at Champions Golf Club have to be used this week to accommodate a field of 156 players competing on two courses. With the entire field going off in the same wave (between 9:20 a.m. and 11:32 a.m. CST), the USGA needed to utilize every inch of the 300-yard range to make it happen. (Officials didn’t want drives from big hitters like Bianca Pagdanganan, Maria Fassi and Anne van Dam rolling up on the other end of the range.)
Kang, for one, is left to scout out positions where she can get her wedge work done.
“I’ve been going into tents and trying to hit wedges,” she said. “I went over there, behind the trees over there and tried to hit it. I went across the range. I’m trying to find places where I do it, because routine is very important for me, and I want to be able to hit wedges.”
There are a handful of spots that she has found to make it work. Playing golf in a pandemic requires a bit of creativity.
Kang, one of the hottest players in 2020, took a considerable amount of time off from the tour after finishing runner-up to Ally Ewing (nee McDonald) in October at the LPGA Drive On Championship in Georgia. She felt that her game was getting “a little bit titter tatter” at Reynolds Lake Oconee. She was only hitting her driver about 225 yards and her ball flight was getting lower.
When she came to Houston to preview Champions while boyfriend Maverick McNealy competed in the PGA Tour event in town, she knew she’d need more firepower in her bag to have success here, particularly on the Cypress Course. Kang wanted to find an extra 10 to 15 yards as well as more height on her approach shots. To get it, she’d need to focus on body work, technique and rest.
“My physio hasn’t been able to travel this entire year because of COVID, so it’s a bit different for me to have like no body work done,” she said. “It’s every day I try to do foam rolling and do the workouts. It’s shorter days, as well, so it’s harder for me to cram in all the workouts and the practices.
“So I tried to utilize the few weeks I had at home, and I guess it’s more technique, as well. Technique has to be pretty timed up, but your body has to be able to do it.”
Long breaks aren’t a cause for concern with Kang. Quite the opposite, in fact. She came back from a 166-day break on the LPGA schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic and won two consecutive tournaments in Toledo, Ohio.
McNealy is with Kang this week, carrying around the snacks during her practice rounds (peanut-butter filled pretzels, chocolate-covered pretzels and Oreos). He tied for 12th last week at the Mayakoba Golf Classic.
“Actually, it’s really cool to have him around, jokes aside,” said Kang, “because he looks at all the greens for me, as well, and sees where they would be more grainy off the greens and try and hit this chip shot. I have him try and look at my lines. It’s just having another eye out there. It’s just helpful.
McNealy’s best advice for the week?
“Just relax,” she said. “It’s the U.S. Open; everyone is stressed out.”
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