You can see it in their eyes. You can hear it in their voices as they parrot the lines they’ve rehearsed for years, waiting for this moment, trying to convince themselves that this won’t be different. But it’s obvious. They have no idea what’s coming.
Neither Chella Choi nor Danielle Kang have led after any round of a major, much less a Sunday. Now the two of them will tee off in the final pairing at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship tied at 10-under, two shots ahead of former world No. 1 Jiyai Shin and three clear of defending champion Brooke Henderson.
“I love the vibe of a major championship,” Kang said after a five-birdie, two-bogey 68 on Saturday that included a holed flop shot for par from behind the green at the par-four 12th and stellar up-and-downs at 13 for par and 18 for birdie. “It makes you feel so blessed to be out here and I take it in fully, every part of a major championship. I love showing up at a major. But as a tournament, when I step up and hit a shot, it’s the same thing as if I’m on the driving range. I do what I have to do, stick to my routine and play my game.
“It would be incredible to be called a major champion, especially out on this tour. But my week doesn’t change just because it’s a major. My practice routine doesn’t change because it’s a major. I’ve just been working at the same things and trying to get better.”
It sounded wonderful and plausible, as did the part where Kang talked about the words of encouragement she received from her California friends Wayne Gretzky, Caitlyn Jenner and Hollis Stacy. “Hollis (texted) me and said, ‘If you’re not nervous, what are you doing out there?’ Then she resumed on saying, ‘Just stick to your routine. If you’re nervous, you should be nervous. That means that you’re in the position where you need to be.’”
Choi had similar things to say, although with far less flashy characters saying them. “It’s a major tournament. It’s the biggest for me but I’m ready for final round,” Choi said after a bogey-free 67 moved her to 10-under as well. “I’ve practiced a lot and I’m training a lot, mental training, too. So I’m trying to focus on my confidence.
“I feel very good right now. My shots and my putting have been very good for the last couple of weeks. My father’s come back to (caddie for me) here, so I’m very excited to work with my dad. He gives me a lot of confidence.”
The only thing is: Kang, despite winning two U.S. Women’s Amateurs, has never won in five and a half years on tour. Choi has played for eight and a half years. She’s won once, the 2015 Marathon Classic.
Hollis Stacy was right, they should be nervous. But that shouldn’t be a problem.