'Slow' Progress Part Of Kevin Na's World

March 16, 2014

*From the March 17 edition of Golf World Monday:

To some, Kevin Na trying to pull the trigger at Innisbrook Resort on Saturday was golf's unnerving version of watching paint dry. To Na, it was a case of his reputation preceding him.

"I feel like I'm playing a lot faster," Na said when I reached him before the third round of the Valspar Championship.

A lot faster compared to the 2012 Players Championship, when Na's chronic affliction was in the final-group spotlight on NBC. But still not fast enough to avoid being put on the clock, as he was on the eighth hole of the Copperhead Course. Five holes later, on the 13th tee, he was given a bad time.

In Na's defense, all of this examination and persecution was over a three-hour, 54-minute round of golf in tough conditions -- when the group in front of Na and playing partner Robert Garrigus lost a ball and Garrigus had a ruling.

Although it was his first time in his career that he had a bad time, Garrigus defended Na, saying, "Kevin's the least of my problems," and telling Na when they signed scorecards that he was not slow.

"People rip me so much for slow play," Na said. "It's not me being slow. It's not being able to take the club back."

Na thought he had the air swing cured by returning to his childhood instructor in Southern California, Don Brown. Na worked with Butch Harmon, then made a swing change by going to Dale Lynch before returning to Brown last year. All those varying swing thoughts short-circuited the brain.

Brown just tried to get Na swinging left like he did as a kid. As we saw Na take repeated practice swings, it must have been easier as a teenager at Mulligan Golf Center in Torrance, Calif., than a 30-yearold looking for his second victory on the PGA Tour.

"He's getting more used to it," Brown said when we spoke. "He doesn't balk as much anymore. He even used to balk in practice rounds with me. He couldn't take the club back. I'm sure when the heat's on, it gets worse."

The heat was on Sunday, and Na was no longer a candidate for the USGA's "While We're Young" commercials. He wasn't put on the clock. He battled back from a bogeybogey- double bogey streak on the front side to finish one shot back of John Senden. NBC didn't show him backing off, "balking" or air-swinging once.

"Two years ago at TPC I could understand," said Na's caddie, Kenny Harms. "He was going through some things, some demons, but he has become a lot faster player. If you talk to players, they will say how much improvement Kevin has made. It bothers us still to have the stigma, but he showed 'em today."

Although he didn't win, Na considered it a victory.

"All positive," he said afterward. "I played great. Not only did I play great, I was waiting on the group in front of me every hole. I hope people were talking about that."

They weren't, but it should be noted Valspar is a paint company, the Na-Garrigus twosome played in four hours and 15 minutes and the group in front of them was Senden and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.