How Kevin Na Learnt to Pull the Trigger
WITH the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial marking the return of live action on the PGA Tour, we look back at last year’s tournament, which was won by American Kevin Na.
Na is a Marmite golfer - his problems are well documented but, to recap, he is a man who has often struggled to pull the trigger during what has been a pretty distinguished career. There have been times when, especially with a driver in his hand, the American has frozen over the ball. It has led to him being a target for many of the PGA Tour’s less understanding spectators. But there are just as many who admire the way he has found a way to get through it. And last year he won a whole new army of fans when he won the Charles Schwab Challenge in some style.
Colonial is one of the few courses on the PGA Tour that Na believes fits his game. By today’s standards, it is not overly long, it rewards precision and he believes that several of the holes play to his strengths. “I think a lot of my draws work out here,” said Na.
He describes it as a "second-shot-in golf course", noting that a majority of well-struck tee shots end up in the same spot in the fairway. “It’s about how good you can hit it with the irons and how well you can putt,” said Na, whose career-low 61 came at Colonial in 2018, and who shot a 62 in the second round last year to jump into contention. “I’m a pretty good player fairway in.”
In the final round he hit 14 of 18 greens and holded several key putts. Starting the day with a two-stroke lead, Na birdied three of his first six holes – including a 33-foot putt at the fourth -- then bounced back from his first bogey with another birdie from 20 feet at the par-three eighth.
Na, known for walking in putts, side-walked this one, then pumped his first. A few steps later, he smiled for the first time in his round. Nobody would catch him on this day. He eventually finished at 13 under, and his four-under 66 was bettered by only one player in the final round, Scotland’s Russell Knox’s 65.
“It was a well-deserved win for Kevin,” said Tony Finau, his closest pursuer at nine under.
In 2018, Na won at The Greenbrier. It was his second Tour win but his first in 158 starts. Na said the drought lasted so long that he wondered if he would ever win again. “I feel like this was the next chance at a win, next time I legitimately could contend – and I won,” Na said. “I felt so much more comfortable. Had so much more confidence. I think winning Greenbrier in 2018 took the pressure off. There is always pressure, but it’s taken a lot of the load off, weight off my shoulders.”
His caddie, Kenny Harms – who has been on Na’s bag since the end of the 2008 season – has noticed the difference. “Ever since his win at Greenbrier, that was the first time I actually saw a calmness to him that all the greats have in golf,” Harms said. “I can tell when he’s nervous. I never really saw any nervousness from him at Colonial.”
Leading up to Colonial, 2019 had not gone well. A finger injury forced him to withdraw from the Sentry Tournament of Champions and sidelined him for a month. A neck injury at Valspar also slowed him down. Then he failed to make the cut at Bethpage Black.
But Colonial will always be a special place for him. Na said that just before starting his final round, he looked at the Wall of Champions next to the first tee and noted the engraved name of the 2018 winner, Justin Rose. Then he looked at the empty spot just below it. “In my head, I engraved my name in it,” Na said.
When he arrives at Colonial, his name will be there, alongside all the other winners, including four-time champ Ben Hogan.
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