OLYMPIA, FIELDS ILLINOIS – Danielle Kang won back-to-back majors as an amateur but not even a regular tournament in her half-dozen years as pro.
The 24-year-old Californian took a big step in that direction Friday, grabbing a share of the second-round lead at 7-under 135 after the morning group finished play at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Her biggest hurdle could well be co-leader Kim Sei-young, the LPGA’s 2015 Rookie of the Year and already a six-time winner on tour.
First-round leader Amy Yang and Jodi Ewart Shadoff are another stroke back at 136. Ryu So-yeon, who climbed to the No. 1 ranking after last week’s victory and won the LPGA’s first major of the season, heads a trio that includes Moriya Jutanugarn at 137. Lydia Ko shot 3-under 68 to put herself back in contention at 138.
Kang, the U.S. Women’s Amateur champion in 2010-11, conceded she didn’t have a game plan after her last practice round at Olympia Fields Country Club, one of several venues that previously hosted men’s majors now being tested by the women.
“I kind of was super-overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do,” she said. “So I called my brother, Alex, of course.”
Alex Kang, who plies his trade on the Web.com Tour, was familiar with Olympia Fields and its bunkers, and he gave her some simple advice.
“He goes, ‘Just blast it down,’ ” she recalled. The plan worked as Kang, relying on her driver, hit 11 of 14 fairways and hasn’t made a bogey through 36 holes.
Kim carved her path up the leaderboard with a closing flourish, making three birdies in her last five holes. They came on the tougher front-nine side, though players caught a break as the swirling wind that made club selection dicey on Thursday was subdued in round two.
“Fortunately, when I tee off, a little less windy,” Kim said. “So I was able to attack the pin.”
Harukyo Nomura fired a bogey-free 5-under-par 66 to soar into title contention after the second round.
Teeing off in 67th place, Nomura made three birdies and capped her round with an eagle to close out in 15th at 3-under 139.
Nomura, who won her first title of the season at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout in April, picked up two birdies through 13 holes while missing a number of birdie putt opportunities.
She added another birdie at the par-3 17th with a putt from 19 feet and rolled in for eagle at the last after landing her second shot to within three feet of the pin.
“It was a lucky eagle at the end. I am happy about that,” said Nomura, who also acknowledged her shortcomings.
“I wasted lots of chances for birdie putts,” she said. “This is a major tournament and I just tried to focus on my golf and make sure I didn’t come apart.”
Ai Miyazato’s latest bid for an elusive first major title took another hit, the former world No. 1 just about making the cut with a second straight 72 that left her at 2-over 144 tied for 62nd.
Miyazato, who is retiring at the end of the season, made three birdies and four bogeys.
“It felt for a long period as though I would go under par but I feel like I didn’t compete well enough on the greens. I’m just not reading them right,” Miyazato said.
“My tee shots have been good so I can play aggressively. Ideally I’d like to go under par so I will try my best to achieve that target.”
Sakura Yokomine, Ayako Uehara and Nasa Hataoka all missed the cut.
The KPMG begins a stretch of three majors in six weeks, and Ryu could cement her new No. 1 status by adding a second major to the one she claimed in May by beating Lexi Thompson in a playoff at the ANA Inspiration. The LPGA staged a brief celebration as she teed off Thursday, draping her caddie, Tom Watson, in a special green bib.
“The ceremony made me more nervous,” Ryu said. “No. 1, I thought it’s a lot of responsibility and it just gave me a lot of pressure. I finally got relaxed a bit more and just played as normal.”
Yang was on the 18th fairway a day earlier when play was suspended. She returned just before 8 a.m. to complete her first round and made birdie to reach 6 under. Although she got to 7 under, she couldn’t hold it.