Kevin Na: Hitting it over the “H”

I’ve liked Kevin Na’s story ever since I first heard of him. He bypassed his senior year in high school in order to get to the PGA Tour. He made it to the Tour in 2004 and made $901,000.

And then there was his famous 16 that he took on the par-4 9th hole in the 2011 Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. He hit it deep into the right trees and he did his damnedest not to take an unplayable lie and go back to the tee. But once he got going, we just had to see how it would all work out. To his credit, after posting an 80, he came back for the second round and gamely posted a 77 to miss the cut.

And while he shot a 4-under 66 on Friday in the Crowne Plaza Invitational to back up yesterday’s 64 and extend his first round lead to two, he had a little mini-adventure on the 18th:  

Well, that hole requires a draw off the tee, and [my] ball flight’s a draw.  It’s a difficult tee shot, but nothing I can’t pull off. I just came out of it a little bit [and hit it right].  It wasn’t even that bad.  It hit the tree, goes right, and it looked like it was in the hazard.  And they said my ball went in the hazard, so they had a point where my ball went in.

[Because it was a lateral hazard] You can take equal distance on the opposite side of the hazard, which I knew, and that comes in handy once in a while, which gave me somewhat of a clearer shot to the green.

Where I dropped, I could get another drop because the bleachers were in the way, but that’s the only place I can play from.  And I was far enough back where I could hit it over the bleachers, and I dropped it there and I hit a great shot over the bleachers, and I made a good bogey.

But the foregoing details are only to set the stage for how he hit it over the bleachers.

One of the traps that amateurs fall into is that they are playing “golf swing” rather than playing “to targets.” The best of the Tour players may have a swing thought in mind as they make their swings, but they are more mindful of their target than their swings. Most have the ball flight to the target in mind too and imagine the shot. Paige Mackenzie once told me that she actually imagines the shot all the way to the ground and gets a little off balance when she can’t see the ball land, say on a blind tee shot where you can’t see the fairway.

Which dovetails nicely with Na’s third shot, a completely blind shot to the green:

Q.  Kevin, just going back to 18, that was a blind shot, I assume, over the 10th?

Yeah.

Q.  So what were you aiming at?  How did you know where to go?

I was aiming — Kenny got me focused even over the “H.”  I don’t even know what word it was.  Hospitality tent maybe.

Q.  It says Hogan on it.

It says Hogan?  Okay.  We were so focused on that “H” that I didn’t even know what word it was.  I guess that’s a good thing.  Yeah, that’s where I was focused on and I was just trying to hit it over that “H,” and I probably hit it — and Kenny gave me somewhat of a space line, and I hit it pretty darn close to that “H” and ended up in the spot I wanted to be.

From 192 yards, he hits a blind shot to 23 feet and two-putted for a very satisfying bogey:

After I dropped it, I had a shot over the bleachers, and I’m trying to stay somewhere on the green, 2‑putt, anywhere on the green, 2‑putt and get out of here with 5.

But thinking back now, I wasn’t thinking about it so much then, which is good.  I mean you pull it at all it’s in the hazard.  You got a blind shot, you bail out right and you’re making 6, maybe 7.  6 easy and 7 no problem.  So happy to walk out with 5.

This episode captured my attention because of a conversation I had with a good friend of mine on Wednesday. He’s a nice player with a well-developed swing with which he knocks the snot out of the ball. Excuse me. With which he really bashes the ball.

But he was having trouble hitting his drives in play because he was pulling everything, sometimes badly, which was very uncharacteristic of him. I watched a couple of swings during the course of our round and they all looked good. So I finally asked him on the 17th tee if he was playing with the target in mind.

“I think I am,” he said.

“Nick Price once commented on how focused he was on targets when he played that he once noticed a fairway bunker rake from the tee with a tine missing. On that tee shot he aimed at the missing tine.”

Kevin Na was so focused on the “H” that he didn’t even know that it was the first letter in “Hogan” until someone told him later.

My friend hit a beautiful tee shot on 17 on a very tight line by the right fairway bunker. He was pumped up.

“We’re you playing with a target in mind?”

“Yeah, it was a woodpecker hole in that Saguaro [cactus] out there [the big ones with the arms for you city slickers]. Hit it right at it.”

And now he has his own story to tell about playing to targets.

And as for my tee shot? I called my target, the Saguaro through the fairway on the right…and then splatted it 35 yards off line and almost into the desert.

I never said that it was going to be easy.

I may have called my target, but there was no intention in that swing to hit it at the target. Between calling the target and my last waggle, things devolved into a siren fascination with some really good stuff that has been going on in my swing. Doh!

Practice, practice, practice.

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