The 54-hole leader talks to John Maginnes of SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio following Saturday's 68.
By Ward Clayton, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Kevin Na views Sunday’s opportunity to win THE PLAYERS Championship as the next step in a career that began during the summer following his junior year in high school when he opted to turn pro at age 17.
The native of South Korea won on the Asian Tour at age 19 in 2002, his second year as a professional; on the Nationwide Tour at age 23; and last year on the PGA TOUR for the first time, at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, soon after turning 28. Now he is leading THE PLAYERS by one stroke.
“I’ve got my first (PGA TOUR) win, got that weight off my shoulders and the monkey off my back last year,” Na said. “I’ve come a long way the last three years, making the TOUR Championship a couple times and getting a lot of top-10s (23 since 2009).
“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.”
Na at first overcame the lonely world of being the youngest guy in just about every tournament he played. Then he suffered a broken right hand in January 2006 when he accidently slammed it in a car door.
“I think the first couple of years were really hard, and I got hurt,” Na said. “I spent close to a half-year to a year off the TOUR. And after that I started changing my swing. It’s been a long process.”
Now he is fighting himself, to a degree, to find his best golf swing. He has repeatedly struggled with his pre-swing waggle routine, apologizing to practice companions, playing partners and even while on the range for the aborted pre-swing process he undergoes that slows the pace of play. Still, the transition is working quite well as he leads this week’s field in birdies (20, including nine in the first round) and is first in three of the main putting statistics.
“Just bear with me, and hopefully we get tomorrow’s round in,” he joked.
In addition to Na’s focus on winning this week and the swing transition, he is also trying to earn a spot on the United States Ryder Cup team. He is currently ranked 15th in points where the top eight earn automatic spots in August and the next four are chosen by U.S. Captain Davis Love III. Na’s family moved to southern California from South Korea when Kevin was age 8.
“I’m an American citizen, and I don’t have my Korean citizenship,” Na said. “My mother is an American citizen, and I 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.”