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May 12 2012

12:13 AM

Na more comfortable in contention

By Ward Clayton, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – At the age of 28, Kevin Na has been a professional golfer for 12 years and a PGA TOUR member for nine. So he is considered a veteran, a position even more established by his share of the second-round lead on Friday at THE PLAYERS Championship.

However, the South Korean who moved to California with his family at age 8 is still just as famous for turning pro at age 17 after his junior year at Diamond Bar (Calif.) High School in 2001. In the same year, another high school junior, Ty Tryon, bolted high school for professional golf. Na played the Korean Tour first before reaching the PGA TOUR in 2004 while Tryon didn’t do well in immediately qualifying for the PGA TOUR.

“I didn’t know any better,” Na said on Friday after tying Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar for the 36-hole lead at 8 under. “I was just doing what I thought I needed to do. I just took a lot of good advice from what other people had to say, and like I always tell people, I was fortunate how well things worked out for me.

“I think if I were to do it over again, I think I’d go to college for a year.”

Why?

“Mark O’Meara told me this once, ‘The PGA TOUR is going to be here forever, and it’s going to wait for you,” Na said. “But college is something you do when you turn 18, and it’s that time of your lifetime where to get to experience something new with all the guys that are basically going through something that you have no clue what’s going to happen, learning how to be on your own.’

“But I skipped that for the TOUR. It’s OK. I think I can live.”

For sure, as Na has won once (the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open) and earned more than $12 million. Since 2010, he has 14 top-10 finishes as his career has taken a big upswing. He hopes to one-up the tie for third he recorded here in 2009.

“I’ve won before, so that win last year did a lot for me confidence wise,” Na said. “I’m a lot more relaxed out there when I’m in contention.”

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