‘Tears of joy’: Danielle Kang comes up short in playoff not long after returning to LPGA following diagnosis of a tumor on her spine

Nearly four months ago, Danielle Kang revealed at the U.S. Women’s Open she had a tumor on her spine. She took time off for testing and returned to action at the CP Women’s Open in late August, telling reporters that she’d rather keep the details of the process and her health within the team.

In only her third start back, Kang found herself in a playoff against hotshot rookie Atthaya Thitikul at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. She came up short, with Thitikul making birdie on the second playoff hole to win for a second time this season.

Kang broke down in tears during her interview with Golf Channel.

“I’m just really proud that I’m even here,” she said. “Obviously I wanted to win, but these are like tears of joy.”

Kang, 29, holed out for eagle on the par-5 18th Sunday to take the clubhouse lead at 17 under with a closing 64. Thitikul answered moments later with an birdie on the 17th to pull herself into a tie with Kang. The 19-year-old Thai player couldn’t convert for birdie on the final hole, however, and they headed back to the par-3 15th for a sudden-death playoff.

Both Kang and Thitikul won early on in the 2022 season. Thitikul joins Jennifer Kupcho, Minjee Lee and Brooke Henderson as the only multiple winners on tour this season.

The 29-year-old Kang endured back pain for several months before finding out about the tumor in late April after she withdrew from the Palos Verdes Championship.

Kang said earlier in the week in Arkansas that her return has been more stressful that some might think.

“There are some random shots that just come out that I used to not hit,” she said. “It just really irks me the wrong way. I have to be patient. I threw my club once and there is no reason to throw it. I’m 5-under par. I just never used to do that.”

Ball-striking is something the two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion has always taken pride in, but Kang said she returned to action with less swing speed, noting that ball doesn’t stop as quickly as it used to.

She hoped to have some extra patience with herself on Sunday, telling her caddie that her goal was to finish at 17 under.

“Honestly, it’s been hell,” Kang said when it was over.

When asked where Sunday’s finish takes her for the rest of the season, Kang said it’s still going to be a process.

“It’s a struggle almost,” she said, “sometimes in the morning, but I came out here to do something that I love, and I’m just so happy for my team that somehow got me back playing this year.

“I mean, there was part of me that I didn’t think I would ever play again or contend, but here I am. I’m not that far off, and I’m happy about that.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek