Kevin Na isn’t the longest guy on the PGA Tour, he would be the first to tell you. He was asked about it during the QBE Shootout last month, a tournament he won in partnership with Jason Kokrak.
Kokrak, by the way, is one of the longer hitters, whom Na enjoyed very much, acknowledging: “It’s good when you play a scrum, pick up the ball and walk up to 30 yards and drop it.”
Besides, Na isn’t one of the biggest guys on the PGA Tour, not in size anyway. He’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 167 pounds in the PGA Tour press guide, which could be a bit generous in either direction. And while we’re at it, Na is not one of the youngest on the circuit.
Originally from Seoul, South Korea, he arrived in the United States at the age of 8, dropped out of high school, and turned pro at 17, 21 years ago. He got his first PGA Tour card in 2004, 18 years ago. At 38, he’s a far cry from the nine-year career, but he’s not made with spring chicken, poultry, or plants.
Now, as we list some of the things Kevin Na isn’t, let’s make sure to consider some of the things he is. That is, after years of endurance and hard work, he is one of the most underrated members of the PGA Tour. Plus, over the past few months he’s been one of the best.
“It’s been an amazing year,” Na said recently of 2021. “(It was) my best FedExCup ever. I had reached the Tour Championship (before) and never really had of success in East Lake, but this year my game was there. I was warm and feeling good.
No, Na did not win the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Sunday. But he wrapped up another strong performance, shooting four laps in the ’60s and finishing tied for 13th place. He’s coming to the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu as the defending Sony Open champion, and he’s coming on a roll.
As noted, the skyrocketing was reinforced with the end of FedExCup last year. Na finished third at East Lake in September, five strokes behind FedExCup winner Patrick Cantlay. Even more impressive, Na’s tally of 266 tied Jon Rahm for the lowest 72 holes of the week, and tied the lowest 72 holes in championship history.
Moreover, it was accomplished while dealing with some stressful emotions. Kurt Harms, the brother of Na’s longtime caddy Kenny Harms, had passed away suddenly the week before. “It was a little tough for us, especially Kenny, but he was there for me for the playoffs and it felt like his brother was there all through the playoffs,” Na explained. “That’s one of the reasons I played so well.”
There were other reasons. Na, the master of the walk-in putt and owner of one of the best short sets in golf, had done it before the Tour Championship. Note: There was a tie for second at the St. Jude Classic in July, two strokes behind Lucas Glover.
Weeks later, after a T23 at WGC FedEx St. Jude, Na was one of six to share the 72-hole lead at the close of the Wyndham Championship. Kevin Kisner opened the six pack and won with a birdie on the second hole of the playoffs.
Nonetheless, Na’s lack of momentum made it to New Jersey, where he finished eighth at the Northern Trust a week later. Then a T17 at the BMW Championship preceded his heat seeking performance at East Lake, where he pushed Cantlay and runner-up Rahm for the big enchilada and played the final three rounds without a bogey.
“I couldn’t have played better,” Na said afterwards. In fact, Na thought her flashy FedExCup run could lead to her first place in the Ryder Cup. But Steve Stricker went in a different direction with his captain’s choices.
“It’s disappointing,” said Na, learning of her plight. “He’s got a tough job. I don’t take it personally. No one deserves anything. It’s a captain’s call. I respect his decision. Do I disagree? Yeah, I disagree. just gotta play better.
Frankly, it will be a tough chore this week. Before moving forward, the roots of Na’s transformation from somewhat unknown to underrated took place a year ago this week in Honolulu.
Oddly enough, things did not start looking bright in 2021. A rib injury that would plague him throughout the year nearly caused Sony’s Na to quit on Wednesday of tournament week. Days later he hit it, coming back from three backs with six to go, getting up and down for a birdie on the 72nd hole and fending off Chris Kirk and Joaquin Niemann for a one-stroke victory. It took 369 starts for Na to secure her first PGA Tour victory – the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriner Children’s Hospital Open. He then waited almost eight years to get his second in 2018.
But victory at Sony last year gave it its fourth straight season with a win. And months later, his performance at East Lake, which earned him a $ 4 million slice of that FedExCup pie, taught him a valuable lesson.
“No matter what golf course I play, if I am there I can play,” Na said.
As mentioned, by today’s standards Na is not long. He finished 170th on the PGA Tour in driving distance last season, averaging 288.5 yards. For this reason, some golf courses in the professional rotation will be particularly difficult. And because of that, maybe he will be need to get a Ryder Cup with points rather than picks.
But Na was also 35th on the Tour for driving precision last season, fourth in putts per round. He led the PGA Tour in winning shots around the green for the third time, and his 0.702 rating was the highest in that category since Chris Riley (0.728) in 2009.
He was making a good living last year and, as he starts again at Waialae Country Club this week, he is No. 29 in the official world golf rankings. In fact, there is more than one way to skin a golf course. When you have the touch of a surgeon and the guts of a player, you don’t have to be long to be dangerous.
Kevin Na might not blow your doors down, but he might just beat your brains out.