South Korea’s Sung Kang became the latest first-time winner on the PGA Tour on Sunday when he tapped in for a 4-under par round of 67 at Trinity Forest Golf Club to beat Matt Every and Scott Piercy by two strokes at the AT&T Byron Nelson.
While the 31-year-old’s breakthrough was celebrated by those close to him, it was not the kind of breakthrough adulation heaped on previous first-timers Max Homa, Corey Conners or Keith Mitchell in recent months.
Golf fans, by and large, have a long memory when it comes those who have been publicly accused of breaking the game’s biggest rule.
Last year at the Quicken Loans National, Kang’s final-round playing partner Joel Dahmen publicly accused Kang of cheating for taking an illegal drop on the 10th hole.
Kang cheated. He took a bad drop from a hazard. I argued until I was blue. I lost.
— Joel Dahmen (@Joel_Dahmen) July 2, 2018
“Kang cheated,” Dahmen wrote. “He took a bad drop from a hazard. I argued until I was blue. I lost.
“It was a typical dispute about where or if it crossed the hazard. It clearly did not cross the hazard. We went back and forth for 25 minutes and he ended up dropping closer to the green.”
Dahmen’s account was corroborated by Michael Klock, the volunteer who was working the PGA Tour’s ShotLink system on the hole in question.
“Kang’s second shot was very far left and at no point ever came close to being inbounds from the initial point of entry 225 yards or so back,” Klock told Golfweek.com. “Kang was insistent (’95 percent sure’ in his own words) his ball came back and entered the hazard at about 35 yards out. I caught bits and pieces of the exchange, but the rules official did quote ’95 percent sure is not 100 percent sure’ before driving Kang back to look at the line again. Kang then returned and argued some more with Dahmen, to which (Dahmen) replied, ‘If you can sleep at night, then take your drop.’
“From what I gather, the rules official and Joel Dahmen put the ball in Kang’s court and let him decide what he believed the result should be. They then returned where Kang took his drop and got up and down for par.”
Kang would eventually get up-and-down for par, finish in third place and grab one of the Open Championship qualifying spots available that week.
Both the PGA Tour and Kang released statements on the matter in the days that followed
“A PGA Tour Rules Official handled the ruling, interviewing both players, caddies and marshals in the vicinity,” the statement reads. “The official then took Kang back to where he hit his second shot, and Kang confirmed his original belief that his shot had indeed crossed the margin of the hazard. With no clear evidence to prove otherwise, it was determined by the official that Kang could proceed with his fourth shot as intended, following a penalty stroke and subsequent drop. The PGA Tour will have no additional comment on this matter.”
“(Kang) is standing by the ruling that was made by PGA Tour Rules officials on Sunday and will have no further comment, other than he is looking forward to focusing on finishing out the season strong, and he is excited about the opportunity to play in the Open Championship again in a few weeks.”
Even with that history following him, Kang was able to outduel Every, Piercy and a host of others who made runs over the weekend, including Brooks Koepka.
He becomes the 10th different Korean player to win on the PGA Tour, and will add himself to the 156-man field list at this week’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.