Kevin Na: Living Down His Reputation

Robert Garrigus managed to hold onto the lead at the Valspar Championship on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor (Tampa), Florida, but not by much. He shot a 1-under 70 to get to 8-under, but his closest competitor at the beginning of the day, Kevin Na, shot 3-under to close within one shot. Na is playing well with only one bogey in 54 holes.

John Senden is at 6-under after a spectacular 7-under, Justin Rose steadily got to 5-under and Retief Goosen’s putter finally got hot and he matched Senden’s 7-under on the day to get to 4-under along with Charley Hoffman and Scott Langley. It’s unusual for each of the top 4 players to be separated by a stroke, but there you have it.

So it will be Garrigus and Na in the final group on Sunday followed by Senden and Rose, four very interesting players to watch. We have Garrigus’ seemingly effortless power, Na’s impeccable shot preparation, Senden’s solid iron play and Rose’s all-around stylish play out of the Sean Foley stable (and the current U.S. Open Champion).

But almost all of this was obscured by the little mini-drama of Garrigus and Na, playing together, being put on the clock and each eventually earning a “bad time” for taking too long on a shot. 

The drama came about because the PGA Tour has finally relented and decided to set an example for the scourge of golf, slow play. It has been said for years that the Tour’s slow play policy would never amount to anything until the players incurred real consequences for being out of position. It used to be that two bad times cost the player a fine. Now it costs him a stroke, the lifeblood of a professional golfer. Now there are real consequences.

So the final holes produced some pretty good television. There was the image of Na and his caddie running off the tee to speed up play. But the officials don’t start timing the player until he arrives at his ball; in other words, there is no 300-yard dash in golf.

Na managed to get his bad time on the 13th hole:

Yeah.  It was a tough shot.  Obviously I was first to hit.  Over water, wind coming — tough to judge the wind and corner pin is obviously brutal and probably just took some extra time because it was probably a hard golf shot.

Like I said, sometimes with the winds out here you got to take a little extra time and to think — go through all the numbers one more time.

And that’s why Na has a reputation of being a slow player. He goes “through all the numbers one more time” too many times. People began to conflate his thoroughness with his inability to pull the trigger on his golf swing, famously at The Players Championship where he made endless practice swings, waggled his club incessantly and balked mid-swing two or three times on the 14th tee.

Garrigus got his bad time on the par-5 14th under extenuating circumstances:

They gave me a bad time because I walked up to the green, walked back, got my yardage, figured out my lie and by that time he said it was a bad time.  That’s the first time in nine years — actually the first time in 17 years as a professional I’ve ever got a bad time on the golf course.

He had tried an heroic second shot that caught a tree up by the green that knocked it down into deep rough some 75 yards from the green. Given that he was playing from an unusual place up to a green surface that he couldn’t see, he walked up to take a look.

Some would argue that that routine and rational shot preparation never would have been looked at askance if they hadn’t been on the clock. But the only way that’s acceptable is if you are in touch with the group in front of you and you can do it with “undue delay.” You couldn’t just go for a 150-yard stroll because you hadn’t made a proper diagram of the green.

All of this came about because Pat Perez, playing in the group in front of them, had a lost ball on the 3rd hole. So he had to come all the way back to the tee, replay his tee shot, and get back out there to plan and play his fourth shot. Garrigus and Na were stalled on the tee while all this was going on. Again, not that unusual, happens all the time.

But apparently when Perez starts playing bad, he starts playing fast. According to Garrigus:

When Pat is playing bad he takes about four seconds to hit each shot.

So that group soon “ran away” from Garrigus and Na and was further exacerbated by their own ruling a couple of holes later. It doesn’t take much to get two holes behind.

And that puts Na right back in the position of defending the Players’ debacle:

It’s not fair for me because I already have that stamp on me.  At The Players it wasn’t fair for me because it wasn’t that I was playing slow, I couldn’t take the club back and not too many people know that are watching TV what I went through.

I mean in playing in these pressure situations and what we play for at the top of the level and the issue I had to go through and I was basically on national television for two days not being able to take the club back — maybe four days — because I got off the gate pretty quick there.

It just put a stamp on me.  It’s not fair.  I’ve had a lot of guys come up to me and say, “You know, you really changed.”  Even Louie Oosthuizen said to me, him and his caddy looked at me, “Kevin, you’re not slow.”  I said, “Well, thank you.”  But doesn’t mean the viewer is going to change what they think about me.

But that said, he’s done a lot of work to overcome that affliction:

Honestly, I still have like five percent of it.  I did a couple a round, swing over the top of it.  I do it on the range.  Who knows.  Might still be there the rest of my life.  I hope not.  I’ve managed to deal with it and find a way to get through it so it’s good.

Which speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit and our ability to somehow find our way.

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2 Responses to Kevin Na: Living Down His Reputation

  1. Dick Pallan says:

    Kevin Na, like everyone else in professional sports, needs to play by the rules. If you can’t play by the rules, you can’t be a top-tier professional. Kevin is whining when he says, “It’s not fair…”. It’s totally fair to be held to the same rules standards as everyone else. Unlike Casey Martin, who was allowed to play professional golf using a cart under the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is no “protected class” for professional golfers who are unable to take their shots in the allotted time.

    • Bill Rand says:

      I agree with you, Dick. But to be fair because the quote was taken out of context, although he was whining as you rightly point out, his larger point was that he has moved along, is no longer a slow player and it’s not fair that he’s still judged that way.