What they said: Kevin Na

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May 12, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

MORE INTERVIEWS: THE PLAYERS Championship transcript archive

DOUG MILNE: Kevin Na, third?round leader here at the 2012 THE PLAYERS Championship.

Thanks for joining us. 4-under 68 today does put you on top of the leaderboard heading into the final round tomorrow. Just some comments on the round today and how you're feeling and we'll open it up and take some questions.

KEVIN NA: First of all, I'm a little tired from running around on the golf course. But you know, I was very pleased with the way I played today. I've been making a lot of birdies this week, but also a lot of bogeys. But it was nice to play a round without a bogey, especially on this golf course.

Q. Obviously you've been asked this a number of times today but I'll ask it again. Just run us through the history of the practice swings, and what is it that's going through your mind? Do you feel like there's a psychological barrier to pulling the trigger, and has it always been there?

KEVIN NA: No, it hasn't always been there.

You know, if anything, I was pretty fast from tee-to-green, and I used to be really slow on the greens. But I've gotten faster on the greens, and now I'm having this trouble pulling the trigger.

I changed my setup starting at the Masters last year. I was trying to get more forward, trying to get the backswing 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 triggers. 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. (Laughter).

And it's not -- I'm not being nice to myself, trust me. I'm ripping myself.

But you know, there's so much on the line that I just have to sometimes back off. Or I'll force myself to take it back, and on the way down I'll come up and pull up and go over the top. As ugly as it is and as painful as it is, believe me, it's really tough for me, and I'm trying.

Q. Given this internal struggle that you're having with your takeaway and even the timing, the clock you were put on on 16, how did you manage to finish this bogey?free round and pull this off?

KEVIN NA: I want to thank God for that one (looking up).

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.

I know I did miss a lot of putts out there, but they were 15-, 20-footers and I hit a lot of great putts that didn't go in. I'm rolling it great, so I've just got to pull the trigger and I think I'll be good to go.

Q. I'm just wondering whether you can grasp our fascination with this. You're playing one of the hardest golf courses of the year against 150 guys and kicking your own ass in the process. I can imagine that must be a pretty hard thing to try to play through at a high level, and you're fighting a course and people and yourself.

KEVIN NA: Yeah, 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. But you know, I'm -- I understand people being frustrated with me backing off, but all I can tell you guys is honestly, I'm trying, and it's hard for me, too.

But just bear with me, and hopefully we get that tomorrow round in.

Q. Last year when you were chopping around in the woods, which you did very quickly, you were so endearing and handled that with a lot of grace. How did your fellow players respond to that??

KEVIN NA: I got -- they make fun of me. But the guy said it was actually -- I handled it well, and I get a lot of positives out of it.

The funny thing is when I start playing bad, I start playing fast. It's weird. When I'm playing really bad, the faster I play.

And actually when I'm in the trees, I probably hit that shot faster than when I'm in the fairway. And when I have to hook a ball or hook a big cut, when I have to work the ball, I don't -- there's less going on. I know I have to hit that big cut, and it's easier for me. But when I have to hit the straight ball, I've got to think about swing and everything.

So it's probably when I'm in the trees I hit it faster. But I don't want to play from the trees.

Q. What's your concern level for your playing partners? It probably is difficult on Zach out there, and is that part of your concern, to try and get rid of this?

KEVIN NA: Oh, definitely. I told Zach 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).

Q. As you alluded to earlier, once you swing, the ball is mostly going where you want it to, so you would think intuitively that would make it easier for you on the next swing and the next swing and the next swing. So what's the hitch and the cause of it??

KEVIN NA: I don't know. I mean, honestly, if I knew I guess I wouldn't be having this problem. I take two -- I said little waggle, half waggle, little waggle, half waggle, and there's like this split -- I mean, there's that timing. And if I miss that timing, then I have to start over. It's that little waggle, half waggle, and I've got to go in pairs.

As crazy as it sounds, I really don't know.

My coach and I talked about it, and Dale just keeps saying: Keep doing what you're working on. As long as your balance feels right, it's because you're changing your balance and your body is having a hard time to adjust to what you're feeling. That's why you're having trouble pulling the trigger and coming into the shot. But he says, keep working on it.

So the only thing I can do is trust him and keep working on doing what we've been doing, because the scores have been showing that I've been improving.

Q. Two questions: Could you take us through what happened when they put you on the clock? And secondly, do you think players dread playing with you, being paired with you?

KEVIN NA: Well, you know, I knew when we -- on the front nine we were doing okay, and the group -- the rules official told us, Mark Russell, told us the group in front of us is being on the clock.

When Kuchar got in front of us, I knew it was going to be tough to keep up with them because they're going to start taking off.

Yeah, I know guys make -- in the locker room or in the trailer, guys will be like, "I've got to play with you today, I've got the short straw." But they mean it to a certain point, and to a certain point they're kidding.

But all I can do is just be respectful and try my best. I don't know, what can I say? I'm friends with a lot of these guys out here. Hopefully they understand, and we go from there.

Q. Once you were on the clock, you had the bad time on 16??

KEVIN NA: Uh?huh.

Q. Why did you appeal it??

KEVIN NA: Because I had to back off because Kenny was in the way. Kenny Harms, my caddie, he was in the way. His shadow was in the way. He didn't move the right direction because his shadow and getting long and I had to back off because his head was moving.

So I backed off, and I said, "Ken, you've got to go the opposite direction," and that's why I backed off.

Q. The appeal was turned down on 17 as you were heading to the green; right??

KEVIN NA: No. When we were heading to the green, he told me I had a bad time. I told him what happened, and we talked after the round.

Q. Did you win the appeal??

KEVIN NA: No.

Q. Were you at all concerned going to 18 of another bad time??

KEVIN NA: No. They told us once, they said, when we were walking off the tee on 16, I was doing a heck of a job keeping up, and we were catching up.

And we were almost caught up, and they told me it was -- Mark, I forget his last name -- Dusbabek, used to play the NFL, he was timing us most of the back nine. And it changed to Jon Brendle, and I knew we were still on the clock, and Jon Brendle hold us you're still on the clock for one more hole because you're very close to catching up.

It was basically my last shot that I got a bad time.

Q. You were not on the clock on 18??

KEVIN NA: No, 17 and 18 we were not on the clock.

Q. Do you have somebody you play regular practice rounds with and did you talk to them about this??

KEVIN NA: I play a lot of practice rounds with Kang, Sung Kang. And he goes -- he tells me, "Bro, I don't know how you do it."

Q. So you even do it in practice rounds??

KEVIN NA: 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.

Q. Did the problems -- did you and Dale start working together late last year??

KEVIN NA: We started working -- first week we worked together was the Masters, and every tournament I played in, it was like five or six tournaments we worked together, and this year we started working full?time.

Q. And the inability to pull the trigger, is that a result of being uncomfortable over the ball after changing coaches??

KEVIN NA: I think so. So can I blame Dale? He says, "Just blame the coach."

But he's done a hell of a job with my swing. I'm very pleased with the way my swing is going and my game is going, and I give a lot of credit to him.

Q. When you first came out here, as a kid really, you had a hard time adjusting, said a lot of things about what you could do. How long did it take you to kind of adjust to being out here, and what made you decide to make the changes you made, not only with your swing, but with your fitness??

KEVIN NA: I think the first couple years was really hard, and I got hurt. I spent close to -- almost half a year to a year off the TOUR. And after that I think I started changing my swing.

It's been a long process, but I think the past -- I'd say the past year I've been working on the right changes, and the first time ever that I feel like my questions that I've been asking on my golf game has been answered, and my fitness is coming along.

I've played a lot of good golf in the past three and a half years, but I think my past year, I think I made the right decision by working with Dale.

Q. When Tiger talks about hitting his best shots when he feels uncomfortable over it while he's making these changes with Sean Foley, is that something you can relate to??

KEVIN NA: He said he hits his bad shots when he feels uncomfortable? I can agree to a certain point, yes, because what you're comfortable is something that you're doing without thinking. But if you're trying to make changes, it's not going to feel comfortable.

The funny thing is when you're making swing changes, it feels weird, and you look at the ball, and you're like, hmm, that's not bad, and you feel like you made a comfortable swing but you already know when you hit it that you put your old move on it.

Q. Prior to making this change, you were known for being very deliberate on the greens. Was that something -- have you always been a guy that just takes your time, and do you not, for instance, see the line and putt it down that line and just hit it? Like why couldn't you do that?

KEVIN NA: 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.

Q. Lining the ball up, you mean??

KEVIN NA: Yes, and I've had a big talk with my brother when he caddied for me, and Kenny. I've had talks with -- let's get rid of this line.

But the strongest part of my game is my putter, and I can't sacrifice that when I putt my best with the line.

And what was the other question?

Q. Well, I'm just saying that even with the line, it still takes a long time.

KEVIN NA: Yeah. I've gotten faster, I really have. On the green -- I used to try to get it perfect. But now, if it's close enough, we'll kind of adjust to it and hit it.

And Kenny and I, since we started working together longer and longer, we've found a way to make it a little faster. Like on the putt on 18, I don't think I took as much time.

But sometimes that I have to -- when I'm not sure, I have to take my time to make sure I know where I'm going. Because I'm not one of those guys that can pull the trigger unless I know exactly where I'm going to hit; where I want to hit it. If I'm not sure, then there's no point in me hitting the shot.

Q. Tiger talks about sometimes where the old swing comes in. In your case, does the old swing creep in every once in a while??

KEVIN NA: All the time. All the time. When I got to this week -- obviously I had an ear infection last week. I started working with Dale; my old setup was creeping in. I wasn't setting up properly. Backswing was not as good. Transition wasn't as good.

So, there was a lot to work on. As I started working with him, my swing got better and better, and Thursday morning before I teed off, Dale looked at me and said, "Your swing is looking great, you're on the right track. You're going to have a good week."

Q. I know I've asked you this before, but you're on the Ryder Cup standings list, and I know you were born in Korea. I was wondering, do you have citizenship in this country??

KEVIN NA: I'm an American citizen, and I don't have my Korean citizenship. My mother is an American citizen, and when I turned 18, I had a choice to become an American citizen, and I chose to become an American citizen. So I can play the Ryder Cup.

Q. Two things: One, given your sort of fistfight with yourself today, how good was that score that you put up? And what would it mean to you to win this thing?

KEVIN NA: 68 was a great score, especially late in the day. I know the greens were firming up, and it was getting tough. And it was very windy in the beginning of the round, and it did lay down a little bit towards the last four or five holes.

If you gave me 68 before I teed off, I would have taken it, definitely. If you gave me 69, I probably would have taken it. I think I really played well.

What it means to become a PLAYERS Champion? It would mean a lot. I've got my first win, got that weight off my shoulder and the monkey off my back last year. I've come a long way the last three years, making THE TOUR Championship a couple times and being in a lot of top 10s.

But being a PLAYERS Champion would be something I'd be very proud of. This is as close as it gets to a major; so if I can win this golf tournament, that means I can win a major. It would do a lot for me.

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