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Success Tastes Sweet to LPGA's Newest Star

September 11, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

What are you going to call the LPGA landscape right about now? How about Candieland?

Probably the hottest player out there is Candie Kung, the 22-year-old from Rowland Heights and USC, who won three weeks ago, won again two weeks ago and was second last week.

Kung, who is in her second year on the LPGA Tour, has three victories. Only Annika Sorenstam, with four, has more.

Now up to sixth on the money list with $862,936, Kung is not only successful, she's also indefatigable. She has played 23 tournaments (Sorenstam has played 13) and plans on missing only one tournament all year.

"I figure I can get my rest at the end of the year," Kung said. "I wouldn't know what to do with my weeks if I wasn't playing golf."

It didn't take long for Kung to show that she is a model of consistency. As a rookie last year, she made 19 cuts in 22 events and won $261,044 -- 38th on the money list.

Even though she was fifth in greens in regulation and 11th in scoring, Kung worked hard with her teacher, James Sieckmann, of the Shadow Ridge Golf Academy in Omaha to try to improve her short game and scoring.

As a result, Kung has picked up more than 10 yards off the tee -- she's 13th in average driving distance at 264.8 yards -- and is reaping the benefits.

"It's made about a one club difference, from a six-iron to a seven-iron to the green. That makes me feel a lot more comfortable.

"And I've been getting putts to go in. It's just all come together."

The native of Taiwan didn't start playing until she was 13, but she came along quickly. She was a three-time American Junior Golf Assn. All-American and the AJGA player of the year in 1999. At USC, Kung was a two-time All-American.

She turned pro in August 2001, played the Futures Tour and won the last event of the year. At qualifying, she tied for 15th and earned her LPGA card for 2002.

Kung says she'll play at least seven more tournaments this year and maybe move up one or two spots on the money list. More certain is the presence of her parents, Sensun and Chao, to see every shot, just as they have at every tournament since she turned pro.

What they have seen are lower scores. Kung's scoring average a year ago was 72.33 and she has lowered that by 1.46 a round this year, all the while making quite an impression on the LPGA Tour even though she arrived largely unheralded, unlike such freshly minted stars as Lorena Ochoa, Beth Bauer and Natalie Gulbis, who have yet to win.

"I know they're good," Kung said. "I just play my own game and see what happens. And what has happened, it's been like a dream. I still can't believe I've won three tournaments this year. Now, I know I can win out there. Hopefully, I'll win even more, next year, majors, whatever. I'll take anything."


From Jeff Sluman, asked what personal article he would most want to have with him if he were stranded on a desert island: "sunscreen."


What should we expect at this week's Solheim Cup at Barseback Golf and Country Club in Malmo, Sweden?

There are a few items to consider: The U.S. won last year at Interlachen, coming from behind in the singles matches on the last day. The European team hasn't won playing in the U.S. and the U.S. team has lost two of three times in Europe.

Two players on each team are rookies (Heather Bowie and Angela Stanford, Elisabeth Esterl and Ana-Belen Sanchez). The U.S. team has more Solheim Cup experience (32 appearances to 23) and more LPGA Tour experience (142 years to 75 years), but the Europeans have the same number of major championship victories, 12.


Michelle Wie update: She's a ninth-grader now at Punahou School in Honolulu and her 14th birthday is a month away, but before then, she's going to get busy on the golf course.

Next week, Wie tees it up against male professionals at the Nationwide Tour event in Boise, Idaho, and the week after, she plays an LPGA tournament in Portland, Ore. Wie hasn't had much time at home. She left May 30 to play tournaments on the mainland and didn't fly back to Hawaii until Aug. 24.


Golf World ranks UCLA third, USC 11th and Pepperdine 14th in its coaches' poll of women's teams; and UCLA fourth and USC 15th in its coaches' poll of men's teams. It also lists Charlotte Mayorkas of UCLA and Steve Conway of UCLA among players to watch.


The 23rd Associates charity tournament will be held today at Leisure World in Laguna Woods. The event benefits Saddleback Memorial Medical Center. Details: (949) 452-3965.

Simi Valley Hospital's charity tournament will be held Oct. 22 at Moorpark Country Club. The event benefits the hospital's Patient Care Tower construction fund. Details: (805) 955-8103.


Office Depot Championship tournament director Julie Filkoff and her staff are taking part in the City of Hope's annual Walk for Hope to Cure Breast Cancer on Sunday in Duarte to honor veteran LPGA player Colleen Walker, who has breast cancer. The event benefits the City of Hope Cancer Center.

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