He’s 17 years into being a PGA Tour pro, and has earned a unique reputation as one of the course’s best entertainers.
Kevin Na will shortly celebrate spending half his life on the circuit, and while victories have come in reputable events such as the Volvo Masters of Asia (2004) and the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open at TPC Sumerlin in Las Vegas (his first PGA Tour win at the 211th attempt), the 36-year-old’s impact on the sport goes well beyond lifting trophies or picking up prize money.
He is a player who conducts himself impeccably, who plays golf in the same casual, leisurely way we do ourselves – like a hobby, not a profession – and has even garnered a cult following for pursuing his ball into the hole as it rolls.
The recognition is certainly only firing his weaponry in one direction – last year 2019 was his most prolific year in terms of event wins on the tour, as he took the Charles Schwab Challenge in May and then his second Shriners title in October, beating world top 10 player Patrick Cantlay in a play-off.
Na will be hoping that while he can walk the walk, this year gives him the opportunity of talking the talk as well...
RSNG You’ve fairly recently become a father for the second time – how does family life work as a professional sportsman who is always on the road? KEVIN NA, PGA PRO ‘Well, not a lot changes to be fair, because when I first started dating Juliann, we were travelling on the tour. Now, we still do the same, but we have more people and more luggage with us, haha!’
‘I joke, obviously. It is more difficult when there’s more than just the two of you, especially when your young people can’t fend for themselves. It’s a schedule that can be tough, but I always have the escape of heading out onto the course, and I realise that isn’t a luxury many new parents enjoy!’
‘I think the toughest thing is the various time zones that we have to deal with, and the fact that there are very few home comforts when you are travelling around from place to place.’
‘The parts of the season where I know I am settled at home I definitely enjoy the most. Competing is great, but relaxing and feeling you can have some downtime – notwithstanding children – is so valuable.’
I’ve already played professional golf for more than half of the time that I have been alive! That’s quite a stat… haha
RSNG You have been around for quite some time on the PGA Tour, now. Does it feel that long? KN ‘It sort of does and I was playing on the Asian Tour for two years before I actually got my PGA card. I’ve already played professional golf for more than half of the time that I have been alive, now! That’s quite a stat… haha.’
‘I would like to think that I have a little bit more to give on this tour, but if the age is reduced on the Champions Tour (the golf tour for senior players, currently 50 and over), then I cannot wait to start playing on that.’
‘I definitely do want to play on the Champions Tour and the fact that the average age of a player on the PGA Tour is somewhere in the mid to late 20s, that certainly means that I am seen to be one of the elder statesmen on this tour.’
RSNG How does that make you feel? KN ‘It’s a nice feeling that other players look up to you and your longevity in the game. I appreciate that.’
RSNG Does it seem a young man’s sport now? KN ‘I would say yes to that, but mostly because there are so many young players coming through. It doesn’t really trouble me, and we know golfers can go on for years and years without the sort of dip in performance that would affect, say, footballers, or tennis players.’
‘What young players have these days is a real ability to hit the ball further. A lot of them have been working out since they were teenagers, and there is an inbuilt power that gets the ball that much further forward, particularly now the holes are getting longer.’
‘That becomes a big advantage for them, and a bit disadvantage for older players who just weren’t brought up with strength and conditioning in mind.’
‘The big-hitters when I first started out where the ones who stuck out like a sore thumb… now it’s the opposite. Bombing is the norm and those who are less than, say, 275 yards with their driver are less easy to spot.’
I tend not to play courses that are miles long, because it can get quite disheartening when I feel like I have no chance of winning
RSNG Does that mean when you get to shorter courses, you’re subconsciously targeting those as being more winnable? KN ‘Yeah, honestly, I do feel a little bit like that when I go to certain places on the calendar. When there are fewer players on the tour who don’t hit the ball a long way – players like myself will see those events as the ones we can finish in high positions on the leaderboard.’
‘That does also mean that I tend not to play courses that are miles long, because it can get quite disheartening when I feel like I have no chance of winning there. It seems like a lot of effort and travelling, for little gain.’
‘It does actually pay to be fairly realistic in my aims this way and I feel like I am able to get more out of myself by staying fresh and keeping my energy and confidence for those events which I feel that I can do well in.’
RSNG Of course, many say your true feature is not your driving anyway, it’s walking the ball into the hole? KN ‘It’s something I’ve always done, and there’s a nice feeling of plucking your ball out of the hole no sooner has it dropped in there.’
‘I’ve always been aware that people may regard it as arrogant, but it’s not that at all – for me I just like the feeling of grabbing the ball as soon as it’s on its way down.’
‘I don’t actually begin walking on a shot until I’m absolutely sure it’s going in the hole. I’ve had a couple of occasions where the ball has wiped its feet on the way in and I’ve very nearly been made to look stupid, but so far I have got away with it!’
WHAT NEXT? Watch how Kevin Na walks his putts in…