Let it never be said that Kevin Na doesn’t have a sense of humour.
After making headlines when he carded a 16 on the par-four ninth hole in the first round of the 2011 Valero Texas Open, Na taped a segment for “Inside the PGA Tour” where he returned to the scene and used a chainsaw to remove some of the offending branches on the tree that led to his high score that day.
And in the second round of the same tournament in 2012, he hung the golf shirt he wore that day on the tree in what he called a sacrifice to mark that occasion.
It’s just one of those things that the Korean-born American takes in his stride, including constant criticism of his slow play.
Born in Seoul, Na’s family immigrated to the United States when he was eight years old.
Since turning professional at the age of 17, Na has gone on to win five times in his career.
His breakthrough came on the Asian Tour in 2002, where his victory in the Volvo Masters of Asia saw him become the third youngest winner in Asian Tour history at the age of 19 years and three months.
A year later Na earned himself a PGA Tour card through Qualifying School, and he was at the age of 21 the youngest member on the PGA Tour. Na impressed with a number of top-10s that season, and carried this form into 2005, where he earned over $1 million for the first time in his career, including two runner-up finishes.
His 2006 season was cut short when he slammed his right hand in a car door, but he returned in 2007 and again challenged for a win on several occasions.
Na’s form over the following three years suggested a major breakthrough was imminent. And it came in 2011 when he claimed his maiden victory on the PGA Tour in the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
But as is often the case with Na, he was at the centre of a major talking point during this event when Na appeared to whiff his tee shot on the par-four 15th hole during the third round, but officials ruled he had not intended to make a stroke at the ball. That ensured he finished the round tied for the lead.
A back injury in 2013 limited him to only eight starts that season. But Na once again dispelled any doubts about his ability when he returned in October that year under a medical extension. Given 18 starts to retain his card, Na needed only seven.
This year Na has had another solid season, finishing runner-up in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia as well as The Memorial Tournament and the Valspar Championship, tied fourth in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, tied eighth in the Sony Open, and tied ninth in The Barclays.
It’s a career that should quite rightly put a smile on Na’s face. And it’s one that shouldn’t be overshadowed by the slow play label Na feels is now bordering on unfair.
“I try to play my game and try the best I can where I don’t affect the guys I’m playing with and I don’t think I have been. I felt like I improved 90% of my pace of play. I’m very conscious of the group in front of me, the group behind me. I’m very aware of my situation and I’m doing everything I can. I don’t know what else I can do, really,” he said this year.
It also hasn’t dampened his sense of humour.
Speaking about that infamous 16 he made, Na told reporters afterwards that he thought he’d made a great putt on the last to break 80. He corrected this when he realised he had in fact shot 80.
But the smile was still there.