Khang on course for much success

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / July 28, 2011

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ROCKLAND - It’s an overused term, especially in sports, but the situation Megan Khang faced called for something heroic. Two holes down, two holes to play, her opponent’s golf ball on the edge of the green after two shots, Khang’s ball 90 yards away, also after two shots. Defeat in the second-round match at last week’s US Girls Junior Amateur, it seemed, all but guaranteed.

“I’m walking up to my ball thinking, ‘I’ve got to hole this out,’ ’’ Khang said. “So I used my wedge, pulled it a little, but it kicked off the hill, caught the slope, hit the flagstick, and went in.’’

Just like that, an improbable birdie that kept the match going. Still one hole down, however, with one hole to play. Khang found the fairway off the tee, then the green in regulation. When Anne Cheng of Torrance, Calif., missed her birdie putt, Khang studied hers, knowing that a make would force extra holes, a miss would mean a loss. The putt never left the center of the hole, and disappeared.

Three holes later, the match was over. Cheng, not Khang, was moving on. But rising to the moment, in the most prestigious girls’ junior tournament in the country, when the pressure was greatest, is the latest piece of evidence available if anyone would be inclined to make the following argument:

The best female golfer in Massachusetts right now just might be an outgoing 13-year-old from Rockland.

“We like to think so,’’ said Lee Khang, Megan’s father, instructor, psychologist, and, when it’s allowed, caddie. “I think if all the best players showed up, we’d be very competitive. I always teach her: Never go to the first tee thinking you don’t have a chance. You go to the first tee thinking you’re the best, and if it doesn’t happen, then it’s not your day.’’

When Khang sheepishly shows you the picture of her trophy collection stored on her cellphone, it confirms that plenty of days most certainly have been hers. Introduced to the game by her father before she was 6, Khang quickly showed the natural instinct and ability that is rare in young children, regardless of sport. Maybe it was the Florida tournament she won at age 8. Perhaps it was the 62 she shot as a 10-year-old. OK, so the course was set up super short because of the age of the competitors. But the 62 capped a tournament in which she finished 21 under par, 16 shots better than anybody else.

More recently, she lost a playoff at the Ouimet Memorial Tournament as an 11-year-old, lost a playoff at this year’s Massachusetts Women’s Open (to a 23-year-old from Connecticut), and shot a final-round 69 to win the Scott Robertson Memorial Tournament in Roanoke, Va.

Accustomed to competing against older players, Khang has a hard time forgetting that when asked if she realizes how good she is.

“I consider myself OK,’’ said Khang, who has a handicap of plus-2. “But I’ve seen a lot of girls that are better.’’

“Most of the kids that are successful at an early age in golf have a different level of maturity and understanding of how to play the game,’’ said Dave Adamonis Jr. “Her mechanics are perfect, and she’s just light years ahead of most other junior golfers in her approach to the game. With Megan, the sky’s the limit.’’

Adamonis should know. As the executive director of the US Challenge Cup, a Rhode Island-based youth tour, he’s seen his share of great talent come through his program. PGA Tour players Keegan Bradley, James Driscoll, and Jim Renner competed in the US Challenge Cup, as did LPGA Tour players Anna Grzebien and Alison Walshe.

“You know who the players are that have that talent and can play at another level,’’ Adamonis said. “You can see that they have that ‘It’ factor. Megan really has that. She’s really on the right path.’’

About to enter her freshman year at Rockland High School - she’ll turn 14 on Oct. 23, and was an honor-roll student in middle school - Khang has chosen to play a predominantly regional schedule on the Challenge Cup, where she’s been named player of the year in a points-based competition the past two years. The Challenge Cup is an alternative to the American Junior Golf Association, which can be expensive and involves frequent travel.

Khang will throw in a handful of other local events - she’s playing in the Ouimet Memorial Tournament tomorrow at Woodland Golf Club - and has caught the eye of college coaches across the country by qualifying for the past three US Girls Juniors. She was the youngest competitor when she played in 2009 as an 11-year-old, then finished third in the stroke-play portion of the tournament a year later.

For someone who says she wants to play college golf - she says she likes the programs at Duke and Stanford - the strategy the Khangs are using is already paying off.

“I’ve had a coach tell me there’s a blank scholarship with her name on it in 2015,’’ Lee Khang said. “If she wants it, it’s there.’’

Khang is the only child of Lee Khang and his wife, Nou Khang, who came to the United States from their native Laos in 1976. Nou - who has been a kindergarten teacher in Brockton for 15 years - settled in Providence, Lee in Brookline.

“She’s been a tomboy growing up,’’ Nou Khang said. “She always wanted to play with balls instead of dolls, she’s very athletic and coordinated and been very competitive from a young age.’’

The Khangs spend much of their summer time together, with many of the hours spent driving their 2005 Toyota Camry from tournament to tournament. They’ve put 72,000 miles on the car the past three years, and will load it up once again on Saturday, when they’ll head to Fort Wayne, Ind., for the Junior PGA Championship.

Khang is first alternate for next month’s US Women’s Amateur at Rhode Island Country Club, and is hoping to receive another invitation to the Deutsche Bank Championship’s pro-am, the day before the PGA Tour playoff event begins at TPC Boston in Norton. Khang and three other juniors teamed with Camilo Villegas to win two years ago, then joined Anthony Kim last year. Needing a birdie on No. 18 to take the lead, the other juniors in the group missed their birdie putts. Khang, going last and seeing on the electronic scoreboard that her team was tied, made hers. Adamonis, who was there watching, expected nothing less.

“Year after year,’’ he said, “the story and allure of who Megan Khang is is going to continue to grow.’’

More tournaments, long car rides, and waiting to see if she’ll get into the US Women’s Amateur will occupy her immediate future. If all goes well, more victories and fun high school years will follow, then college. But the long-term goal never has wavered.

“I want to play on the LPGA Tour,’’ Khang said. “I don’t see me doing anything else. If you can make money doing what you love, then go for it.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at