It’s no secret Kevin Na, the 54-hole leader at The Players Championship, is one of the slowest players on the PGA Tour — if not the slowest — but he is well aware of his problem and the criticisms.
He’s been under even more scrutiny than usual this week given his position on the leaderboard, but he’s handled it with candor, bearing his demons to the media (and the world) and throwing in some self-deprecating humor. That makes it hard not to sympathize with the difficult he has “pulling the trigger,” which causes him to back off the ball and go through his pre-shot routine more than once countless times throughout a round.
From Na’s detailed description of his thought process, it sounds like he has OCD, which is a common disorder amongst golfers and even caddies out here (we’re all crazy!).
Na, who had a major attitude adjustment at the end of 2010 when his dad was diagnosed with leukemia, is painful to watch, but believe it or not, he’s a likeable guy. I used to be one of his biggest critics, but since I’ve gotten to know him a bit, I’m now one of his biggest apologists (and I really, really hate slow play). Then again, I also want to yell, JUST HIT THE BALL.
Despite running his way around TPC Sawgrass to make up for his bizarre pre-shot routine, which includes waggles that have to come in pairs, Na managed to shoot a bogey-free four-under 68 in windy, difficult conditions to take the outright lead heading into Sunday.
“I changed my setup starting at the Masters last year,” said Na in his post-round presser. “I was trying to get more forward, trying to get the back swing more up. And because my balance at the setup is totally different, I don’t feel comfortable.
“I’m trying to get comfortable with my waggles. It’s usually a little waggle, half waggle, little waggle, half waggle, and boom, supposed to pull the trigger. But if it doesn’t work, I’ve got to go in pairs. So it’ll go four; and if it doesn’t work, it’ll go six; and after that, just ‑‑ there’s a lot going on in my head.
“And I’m not being nice to myself, trust me. I’m ripping myself.”
If you watched his press conference, then you might even find yourself rooting for him. Well, that’s assuming Na, who is in the final twosome with Matt Kuchar, will be able to finish before dark on Sunday.
“Honestly, I’m trying, and it’s hard for me, too,” he said. “But just bear with me, and hopefully we get that round in tomorrow.”
Here are some excerpts of Na’s presser:
*On how he was able to play so well despite the added pressure of being on the clock: I want to thank God for that one (looking up, trying not to laugh, laced with sarcasm). It’s tough, especially when you’re on the clock and you have to hit within a certain ‑‑ 40 seconds ‑‑ first it’s a minute. So there’s more added pressure. And only the whole world is watching, so there’s a lot more pressure there, too. It’s hard, but you know, I’m swinging it well, so if I trust it and pull the trigger, my ball is kind of going where I’m looking, which is great, and also I’m rolling the ball great.
*On fighting himself and critics: “It’s pretty high stress. I mean, after I get done, I’m pretty tired because there’s ‑‑ not only am I grinding for the golf tournament, but I’m fighting within myself in my mind and trying to play a round of golf without backing off, without all this extra thing going on.And trust me, you know, I get ripped, a lot. I know TV, Twitters and fans are tired of me backing off. I understand people being frustrated with me backing off, but all I can tell you guys is I’m trying.”
*On how his fellow players treat him: “Yeah, I whiff it in practice rounds, I back off. It’s the same thing; I do it on the range, too. Guys that play with me, they’ll see me go right over the top of it. Guys that play with me, they kind of laugh, and the guys that haven’t played with me, their eyes get about this big.”
*On not being able to hit a putt outside two feet without lining it up (and that’s the strength of his game): “I’m going to be real honest with you. I cannot hit a putt outside two and a half feet or two feet without a line. I don’t know where I’m going, I swear to God. Even in practice rounds at home, anything outside two feet, I have to put a line down. And I’ve been doing it as a kid, and I’ve tried not ‑‑ I have played a tournament without putting a line down to speed up play, just to speed up play. I can’t touch the hole from ten feet and in.”
*On concern for his playing partners who have to put up with his bizarre routine and slow play: “I told Zach (Johnson) on like No. 6, I think I got over it and I couldn’t pull the trigger, and I took like six waggles and I backed off, and I’m like, look, Zach, I’m trying. He goes, ‘Just do what you need to do, you’re playing well and keep it up.’ I’m good friends with Zach, and Zach understands. I think the only guy that would really understand is Sergio if I played with him because he’s gone through it (laughter).”
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)