Friday, April 15, 2011

Thank You, Kevin Na

I'm sure most of you think that post title is tongue-in-cheek, but it's not. I really do want to thank Kevin Na for what he did Thursday at the Valero Texas Open.

Kevin Na at Riviera in February
Photo from PGATOUR.com. This was at Riviera in February, but it could have been the 9th tee yesterday -- same followthrough, same look.

In case you missed it, Kevin experienced every player's nightmare. He came to the 9th tee at -1, then took a 16 on the par-4 (that's right, 12 over par on a single hole!) when he drove two tee shots into the right woods, then made a poor decision to try and play the second one. Each shot went deeper into the jungle, farther away from the fairway. The ball hit him on one shot (that's a penalty) and then he whiffed another one! He finally left the 9th green at +11. But as amazing as it was, there was something that made it worse for him.

Kevin was mic'ed for TV. We could hear everything he said as it happened, not just stray mumbles if he wandered within range of a boom mic. But you know what?
  • He didn't say anything you couldn't play on live TV.
  • He didn't chew out his caddy.
  • He didn't scream and curse.
  • He didn't blame the course designer or the greenskeepers or even the golf gods.
Do you know what he did? He laughed about how ridiculous the score was! He and his caddy walked along, trying to count up the strokes, and finally Kevin laughed and said he was "somewhere between 10 and 15, but probably closer to 15."

He did get noticeably irritated for a moment after it was over, apparently because something got inside his pants legs while he was in the jungle; he said, "it feels like it's all over!" And a numb wrist (he hit a rock under the ball during one swing) caused him enough pain that his caddy asked if he wanted to stop playing... and Kevin said no, he'd wait and see if it continued to bother him.

In the end, Kevin finished the day at +8 (T140) and ahead of only 3 other players in the field.

Kevin gets a lot of grief for being a slow player, among other things, but can you imagine what a mic'ed-up Tiger might have sounded like after posting a 16 on one hole? Yet here's a guy who's still trying to win for the first time after years on Tour, knowing he's probably blown himself completely out of the tournament because of bad decisions on a single hole (and yes, his caddy did let him know -- gently, of course -- that they were bad decisions), and yet he didn't lose it. In fact, he came back and shot -3 on his back 9.

Everybody talked about how well Rory handled his blown final round at the Masters, but Kevin's train wreck was far more embarrassing. Most of us would have given Rory a pass if he had flipped out -- he's young, and that was Masters pressure -- but nobody would have given Kevin a pass, especially being mic-ed up like he was. And yet Kevin handled his disaster with just as much class, even though he didn't have time to consider the "proper" way to handle it before meeting the media.

He was mic'ed-up, after all. We got the full story as it happened.

So say what you like about Kevin Na, but what he went through Thursday was something all weekend players can identify with... and he handled it way better than most of us would. That's a lesson everybody watching could learn from.

Thanks again, Kevin. I hope you go crazy low today and make the cut. Wouldn't that be a story?

UPDATE: Kevin shot a 77 in his second round, so he won't make the cut after all. But he has two Top 5s so far this year, has pretty much locked up his Tour card for 2012, and is 30th in FedExCup points, so don't write him off yet. ;-)

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