Anthony Kang: Fate, Funky Music and the Badlands (Part 2)

Published on October 21, 2020

In the second and final part of our feature on three-time Asian Tour winner Anthony Kang, the American talks about his famous victory at the Maybank Malaysian Open, swing fundamentals and his transition into TV land.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – FEBRUARY 15: Anthony Kang of USA poses with the trophy after winning the Final round of the 2009 Maybank Malaysian Open at Saujana Golf and Country Club on February 15, 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

While Anthony Kang always looks back on his victory at Casino Filipino Philippine Open in 1999 as one of the great highlights of his career – because it was his maiden win – his triumph in Malaysia’s National Open 10 years later carries as much significance to him, and perhaps even more.

It is the manner of that win, which came down to a nail-biting finish, which is so important to him.

“At the Maybank Malaysian Open having a chance to hit my second shot on the par-five final hole of the tournament, the 72nd hole, and knowing if I pulled the shot off I was going to win the tournament was an incredible moment and experience.

“To me it is a rare occasion in golf to be in a position to hit that winning shot when the time is ticking off – it happens in other sports like American football, even soccer, or basketball or baseball. So I felt like it was that moment for me and to experience a moment like that, which all great players have – like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson – I feel fortunate that at least in Malaysia that tournament provided me the opportunity to experience that moment and then fortunately to come out ahead on the right side of it.”

He birdied the 18th at Saujana Golf and Country Club to win by one from four players: England’s David Horsey and Miles Tunnicliff, Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng and India’s Jyoti Randhawa.

It ended an eight-year title drought and as the event was jointly-sanctioned with the European Tour it secured him playing privileges there.

“As soon as I won, I called my brother and said do you want to come and caddie for me in Europe, because we are going to make millions!” said the American.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – FEBRUARY 15: Anthony Kang of USA in action during the Final round of the 2009 Maybank Malaysian Open at Saujana Golf and Country Club on February 15, 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

He quickly points out that that did not come true but that the opportunity was the most important element.

He adds that his game was gathering momentum in the lead-up to Malaysia: “Before Malaysia, about two years prior to, I was playing pretty solid golf. I wasn’t hitting any wild shots. I was very consistent, week after week, and I was making putts. While I wasn’t contending very much, I still had a lot of top 10 to 20 finishes. I was loving it. I’d show up, play, make some money and sometimes have a chance to win. Week after week after week, everything was in the positive.”

Unfortunately, success at Saujana did not open the floodgates to more firsts. In fact, quite the opposite happened.

“My game started to go about one month after the Malaysian Open,” says Kang.

He remembers playing a practice tournament at the Ballantines Championship in Korea on Jeju Island with Ted Oh, Unho Park and Lam Chih Bing (his regular practice group) when things started to go wrong.

“On the eighth hole I hit this drive and it went six yards right and I couldn’t figure out why that shot happened and ever since that happened my game started to slowly erode. So every day after that I was trying to fix it – it was like that story of the kid in Amsterdam who is trying to plug the dam wall by plugging the leaks day after day.”

He feels it was his fundamentals and technique that let him down.

“My fundamentals were not very solid. I had a band aid week after week to make the ball go straighter. I was thinking if the ball went straight, whatever I was doing, that’s correct. As opposed to looking at the proper technique, proper sequence, proper timing.

“Back then the information was not available, the technology wasn’t there, the data wasn’t there, to say the swing has to be sequenced this way, the hips have to move this way – it was more trial and error. Back then it was legendary stories of Vijay Singh.

“That was the mentality I had. I needed to see the ball on the driving range going straight, didn’t matter what my swing felt or looked like.

“I think in the end having the lack of knowledge caught up to me.”

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – FEBRUARY 15: Anthony Kang of USA celebrates after winning the Final round of the 2009 Maybank Malaysian Open at Saujana Golf and Country Club on February 15, 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Kang jokes that it was missing cuts that led to opportunities working in television commentary but in the ensuing years he still went on to become one of the most successful players on the Asian Tour with over US$2 million in career earnings. He currently sits in 22nd position on the Career Earnings list.

He first got into commentary at the Indonesian Open in 2014, where Dominique Boulet – a key member of Asian Tour Media broadcast team – suggested he turn his hand to some on course commentary.

“I had just missed another cut and it was a televised event and Dom came into the clubhouse and he sat down with us and asked me if I wanted to go on the golf course tomorrow and do on-course commentary. And I looked at him and I thought that might be fun. Let me give it a go,” says Kang.

“I still find it extremely difficult. It is really difficult. But it was especially in the beginning. I remember that first time in Indonesia in the morning when I arrived, I looked at the amount of people who were there and the amount of equipment. It was all foreign to me, I had never seen anything like it. And my first thought was I don’t want to be the one guy who messes this up for everybody. The first time is what like I was a soldier and I had never had any weapons training and they gave me a rifle and told me to go out there and do your thing.”

Kang was on our television screens in September working for FOX Sports covering the US Open.

“I still get very nervous before the show starts, especially the five minutes before the show starts, and probably about five to 10 minutes into it. But once you get through that you start to get into the flow of things and relax. When they say it’s going to go live it gets your nervous energy up,” he says.

“It is a lot of hard work. You do a lot more than show up and answer questions. You have to do your prep work. You have to make sure you are prepared and that you have something relevant and then on top of it you have to follow the structure of the programme.”

Kang turns 48 in November and fully intends to play the senior circuit in two years time.

He will be exempt on the European Seniors Tour (now called the Legends Tour) thanks to his win in Malaysia and says: “I am going to give that a go because through that Tour there is a very, very small window that can lead you onto the Champions Tour in the US. It is a very small window. But because of that I am going to give it a go.”

He has come a long way since growing up in Seoul before emigrating with his family to Hawaii when aged 10, in 1982 – which is when he started playing golf.

“Nobody taught us, we just went out with my Dad and Mum and played. They just thought it would be a good idea for the family to spend time at the weekend,” he says.

He picked up the game like a natural and by 1990 a couple of colleges offered him a golf scholarship but he settled on Oregon States University.

Said Kang: “I thought Oregon would be better for my golf career.”

An understatement if ever there was one and probably the most important ‘club’ selection of his career.