Kevin Na was such a good player as a 17-year-old that he decided to give up his senior year of high school to turn professional. No college golf for him.
During the broadcast of the final round of the Justin Timberlake Shriner’s Hospitals Open, Golf Channel announcer and former PGA Tour winner, Brandel Chamblee said that he thought it was a mistake. That college golf teaches you how to win. It allows you to create a little froth in your own peer group and not only learn the art of winning, but learn to think of yourself as a winner.
I know firsthand about that. When I was trying to Monday Qualify my way onto the Champions Tour it wasn’t until some years into the process that I realized that I hadn’t been thinking of myself as a successful qualifier. I was thinking of myself as just another supplicant among the hundreds of guys I played with who had the same dream. And I spent nine years being on the wrong side of that wall. Kevin Na waited eight.
He was the best junior in the country when he decided to just go for it. He played in the 2003 Q-School, finished T21 and won his long coveted PGA Tour card.
And he didn’t waste any time putting it to good use. He played in an exceptionally high 32 tournaments in 2004. He made 19 cuts, had a T3 and T4 and a T2 in the Korea Golf Championship and won $901,000 on the year. Not bad for a high school senior.
He made $1.1 million in 2005.
But he broke his hand in a car door accident in January of 2006 and tried to play through the pain in nine events on the PGA Tour before quitting to let his hand recover. He came back in October of that year and played a Nationwide event in his “home town” of San Bernadino and he won the event: 62, 66, 71, 69. Which was nice, but it wasn’t a PGA Tour event.
He backed it up by earning $.86 million in 2007 and $1.0 million in 2008. But still no PGA Tour win.
And since then he’s made over $2 million each year for the last three years. But still no PGA Tour win. He began to have nightmares about finishing second. Until Sunday.
He beat Nick Watney, No. 3 on the money list and ranked No. 11 in the world, by two strokes. They both had an advantage over most of the field because both of them live in Las Vegas and had a lot of rounds at the TPC Summerlin. Na confessed in his post round interview to playing every day for the immediately preceding two weeks—it’s his home course.
For all that he had invested in trying to win, his Tour friend Y.E. Yang, the guy who beat Tiger Woods in the 2009 PGA Championship, gave him some good advice:
He said, Kevin, don’t try to win. Every time you try to win it’s not going to happen. Just go out there and play. Almost feel like you’re playing for second. That’ll take the pressure off you. He goes, every time I won a golf tournament I wasn’t trying to win. When I beat Tiger, he said, I wasn’t trying to win. He said, he’s Tiger Woods. I’m just trying to finish second. But I just played my game. And he said, it might sound funny, but it might work.
And he took it to heart, just staying in the moment with each shot and not worrying so much about winning. He shot 6-under 65, the second lowest round of the day: eight birdies against just two bogeys.
What’s the old saying? “When you really want something, set it free.” With a little help from a friend, Kevin Na finally figured it out.
Kevin Na, PGA Tour winner…forever.