Megan Khang plays for more than herself at the US Women’s Open

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SOUTHERN PINES, NC – When she was barely out of toddlerhood, Megan Khang would hit golf balls from her parents’ garage in Massachusetts, where her father, then a mechanic, fixed cars. Occasionally the dimpled orbs – her favorite was emblazoned with a Pokémon logo – sailed through the practice netting and into his office.

Lee Khang never minded the distraction because he was fully invested in his daughter’s budding skills, eventually retiring from his full-time trade and parting ways with a garage he managed in Rhode Island to support Megan’s dream of playing professionally.

That sacrifice was among many Megan’s family made for their daughter, who climbed the leader board Friday at the US Women’s Open with a 4-under-par 67 in the second round, leaving her five shots off the 36-hole lead shared by Mina Harigae and Minjee Lee.

South Korea’s Hye-Jin Choi’s 7-under 64, equaling the low round of the tournament, vaulted into second place, two shots off the pace. She is tied with Anna Nordqvist. Fellow Swede Ingrid Lindblad, the amateur who opened with a stunning 65, fired an even-par 71 and is three shots back.

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After her round, Khang – who carded six birdies and two bogeys in conditions far more pleasant than the opening round, which was played in oppressive heat and humidity – talked about the lengths her parents had gone to pursue the American Dream for themselves and their daughter .

“My dad and mom took a risk, and look where we are now,” she said. “We’re very lucky that it worked out this way.”

Her parents were children when they fled Laos with their families after the Vietnam War. They don’t remember a great deal from that time, Megan indicated, with spotty recollections of having to wait in Thailand before being granted asylum in the United States.

When Lee Khang was 7, his older brothers arranged to have a boat meant for six passengers to carry a dozen or so family members across the Mekong River into Thailand. They went through checkpoints bribing guards to allow passage and eventually settled in Brookline, Mass., Thanks to American sponsorship.

US Women’s Open leader board

“That’s a scary thing to do at any age, let alone a child’s age,” Khang said of her family’s harrowing journey. “My parents and my grandparents were very brave in that sense, and so I’m just trying to make all of them proud and myself proud as well.”

Megan’s dad learned about golf reading books detailing the sport and taught himself to play when he was in his 20s. Her mother, Nou, began working at 16, attended college and became a teacher.

After Lee quit the mechanic business, the Khangs made ends meet solely on Nou’s teaching income, hardly enough to allow for a membership at a golf club.

Khang, 24, said she was one of perhaps three Asian students at her high school, but her parents made certain to keep her embedded in the Hmong culture by attending events such as Hmong New Year’s parties, often with other relatives. They did not, however, teach her to speak Hmong, concerned it would interfere with her command of English.

Khang’s parents have not been back to Laos since arriving in America in the mid-1970s, but the whole family is keeping open the possibility of a return visit so Megan can become better acquainted with her roots. She is the only player on the LPGA Tour of Hmong and Laotian descent.

Her family’s background also expanded Khang’s perspective on the world. Among her pursuits off the golf course is raising awareness of the need for potable water in Africa through her work with Golf Fore Africa.

The charity, founded in 2007 by Betsy King after the Hall of Fame golfer traveled to Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia the previous year, funds wells in rural communities on the continent that otherwise would have limited access to clean drinking water.

The foundation’s headquarters are in Scottsdale, Ariz., Where Khang took part in a pro-am years ago and first learned of Golf Fore Africa’s mission through her playing partners.

“A couple women I played with were like, ‘Do you want to start your own well?’ Khang said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’ I mean, I can’t really see a reason why I wouldn’t; I want to start one and grow it. ”

Khang’s parents, meanwhile, have been following their daughter all this week, attending their first major championship since the start of the pandemic coronavirus.

It was during the initial throes of the pandemic in 2020 that Khang earned her first top five at a major championship, coming in fifth at the U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston. She backed that up with a fourth-place showing at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Khang has six career top 10s at major championships but is coming off a missed cut at this year’s first major, the Chevron Championship, formerly known as the Inspiration, held annually at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

“It’s definitely still a work in progress,” Khang said of her near-misses at majors. “Leader boards are out there everywhere, and at the end of the day I know that if I do my job out there and put in my best effort, scores will come, birdies will come and results will come at the end of that.”

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