Na’s optimism helping new generation of stars
October 02, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
The evolution of Kevin Na
LAS VEGAS – It takes a special type of human to get the yips and come out on the other side with a bright smile.
“I’ve always been told I was special growing up,” Kevin Na said with a laugh.
The laugh is contagious. As is the smile. If you didn’t know him you would never guess this was the guy who for a lengthy part of his career couldn’t pull the trigger on his driver. Or the guy who had a 16 on one hole during the 2011 Valero Texas Open. Or the guy who copped vitriol for being too slow on the course.
Having played PGA TOUR events since 2001, Na has seen a lot in this game. The above could have easily sent him into a deep state of depression. And while he admits there have been tough moments, the 36-year-old Na made a decision to always search for positives.
His natural humor helps. It is why we see things like him walking in putts, which has become a social media sensation. It is why he went back out to TPC San Antonio with a chainsaw to cut down some trees. It is why he set a speed record during the 2016 TOUR Championship, playing alone as he ran around East Lake in under two hours.
And it is why he has three wins on the PGA TOUR, the first coming here in Las Vegas (where he resides) at the 2011 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
“I’m not afraid to make fun of myself. Some of these things, you have to be able to own up to it,” Na says.
“Making a 16, it can happen to anybody. I’ve had the yips. ... that can also happen to anybody. Because I have been so open about it, I think a lot of people have come to me asking for advice and I love trying to help people where I can.
“It’s important that you are not a person that digs a hole of negativity that you ultimately struggle to get out of. Be open about things. Talk about it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“Golf is a marathon. I want to play as long as I can. I want to play PGA TOUR Champions. And golf is like life. You are always trying to get better and always trying to improve. If you make a mistake, apologize if you need to, learn from it and try to be better next time. I’ve tried to follow that mindset.”
Inside the PGA TOUR
"Walk it in" with Kevin Na
And now that decision to focus on resilience and positive thinking is paying off for others.
As the Korean influence grows on the PGA TOUR, Na has made sure he is available as a sounding board. Korean culture brings an ethos of hard work and dedication to your craft – something Na advocates – but he particularly has become the man to go to to talk culture shock. And to understand that fun, and humor, has a place in the game also. You constantly see Na out in practice rounds with the Korean players doing his best to widen their vision outside just the serious side of the sport.
“I want to help the young Korean kids and Korean Americans with the culture differences. I understand all of that and I enjoy trying to give back,” Na says.
“I like having a happy, bubbly personality. When I play golf, it is game time and you get serious but at the same time I always try to look at the glass half full.
“There might be a little trash talk here and there. I’m willing to take it and willing to give it. The Korean culture can obviously be different. I’ve had some friends saying, “Oh my god, did he just say that?” But I’ve always liked to laugh and I am very talkative. I’m working and trying hard out there but I like to enjoy myself at the same time. And I like others around me to be having a good time also.”
Doug Ghim, a rookie this season, saw it firsthand at the season opening A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier – another tournament Na previously won. After humbly asking for a practice round, Na kept the rookie guessing with a few maybes despite always intending to do it. Then when they hit the first tee, Na smacked his golf bag in Ghim’s opening backswing and stared him down.
“Welcome to the TOUR,” he said to a stunned Ghim before breaking into his laugh. It was the start of what is becoming another new friendship.
You’d be hard pressed to find a Korean player on TOUR who Na hasn’t reached out to. And of course his special brand of advice and humor is not limited to one country. Na isn’t afraid to be himself around anyone and it becomes infectious.
Seeing Tiger Woods and then Tony Romo mimic his putting with huge smiles on their faces at times this year is proof he has a positive effect on just about anybody.
And he plans for that to continue.
“We get one life. Let’s make it a fun one,” he says.
Kevin Na surprises Alec from Shriners Hospitals for Children