Danielle Kang got a text message from Wayne Gretzky on Saturday morning. Caitlyn Jenner called Friday, and four-time major winner Hollis Stacy also reached out.
Lots of high-profile support for Kang as she goes for her first major championship.
The 24-year-old Kang and Chella Choi shared the lead heading into the final round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Kang won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2010 in 2011, but she has never won an LPGA Tour tournament.
“It would be incredible to be called a major champion, especially out on this tour,” Kang said.
She got a boost before her afternoon tee time when Gretzky, like Jenner a friend from her days at Sherwood Country Club in California, passed along a simple message.
“He said, `Just go win it,’ Kang recalled. “And you know, I was like, `It’s third round.’ And I was like, `Thank you, Wayne.’ And he’s like, `You just go, get it done.’ Caitlyn Jenner called me yesterday. I have a lot of people just beyond that, just calling me up and encouraging me to just keep playing my game and that they are rooting for me. I love it.”
While several of the LPGA’s biggest stars challenged for the lead, it was Kang and Choi on top after a challenging day at an increasingly difficult Olympia Fields. The 26-year-old Choi hit 11 of 14 fairways on her way to a bogey-free 67.
Kang birdied the par-5 18th for a 68, joining Choi at 10 under and setting up an unlikely final pairing for the fourth round.
“I feel very good right now,” the 26-year-old Choi said. “My shot and my putting, very good before last couple weeks. So I have a confidence and, you know, like my father’s come back to here, so I’m very excited to work with my dad and he give me a lot of confidence.”
Choi’s father, Ji Yeon Choi, is caddying for her again after her play suffered when he retired following her only LPGA Tour victory in the 2015 Marathon Classic.
“I played bad, so my mom tell to my dad, go help Chella, why are you staying here?” Chella Choi said.
Jiyai Shin rocketed up the leaderboard with a 64, the best round of the day and good enough for third all by herself at 8 under. Defending champion Brooke Henderson was another stroke back after a 69, and Amy Young and Sei Young Kim were tied for fifth at 6 under.
Kang and Kim were tied for the lead after the second round. While Kim stumbled to a 72, the 24-year-old Kang had five birdies and two bogeys.
She saved par with a perfect bunker shot on No. 12 and then birdied the par-4 14th to get to 10 under for the first time. She gave a shot back with just her second bogey of the tournament on 16, but recovered with another nice bunker shot to set up her closing birdie.
“I’ve been working on my game every day to get better,” Kang said. “Like I said previously, all I could do is work on my game and hope that every day, just chip away at your game and it gets better every day and that’s where it’s getting at. Every year, I’ve just been performing better. I have trust in my own game.”
Lexi Thompson (69), world No. 1 So Yeon Ryu (71) and Michelle Wie (70) were in a group at 5 under. Thompson contended for the first major title of the year, but was penalized for a controversial rules violation and lost to Ryu in a playoff in the ANA Inspiration.
“I was swinging it well all day,” Thompson said. “It was just all a matter of the putts going in. I felt like I stroked it a lot better today. But I hit it very solid, so a lot of positives to take from today into tomorrow.”
Shin, a former world No. 1 and two-time major champion, took off after a birdie on No. 9. She played the back nine in 5-under 30.
It’s a rare U.S. tournament for Shin, the straight-hitting South Korean player who left the LPGA Tour a couple years ago and moved to Japan to be closer to her family.
“I think I’m pretty lucky because I started a little bit early in the morning,” she said. “I started early in the morning. That’s why easy to make a few birdies.”