x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Na means yes to golf fans world over

A comedy of errors at Texas Open followed by Kevin Na's grace under fire has endeared him to thousands of people.

Kevin Na will be remembered for not quitting or losing his temper while under duress on the course.
Kevin Na will be remembered for not quitting or losing his temper while under duress on the course.

You and I have never shot a 16 on a golf hole. And even if we did, we would not admit it.

Around shot 11 or 12 we would have picked up our ball and walked to the next tee box, or chucked our clubs into the nearest body of water and given up the sport for something less maddening. Like making gold out of lead.

You need a professional to shoot a 16. No one else would keep trying to salvage an impossible situation. Which brings us to Kevin Na.

Na is a 27-year-old Korean-American ranked No 64 in the world, with nearly US$10 million (Dh36.7m) in career earnings, a serious golfer who now owns a dubious US PGA record as the first man to shoot a 16 on a par-4, the 474-yard ninth hole at the Texas Open last weekend.

In the days since Na's nightmarish "triple-quadruple bogey", he has become famous, or at least infamous. He was wearing a microphone for the pga.com website. So not only can his ordeal be seen on video (580,000 YouTube visits, and counting), he can be heard talking us through the disaster as it unfolds, even while commentators marvel at his tribulations.

Na was one-under par when he shanked his tee shot at No 9, and "rough" does not do justice to the thicket were it landed. Imagine big, shaggy trees with low branches tangled with dead vines and briars, and you begin to picture it.

After examining the situation, Na and his caddie, Kenny Harms, decided to take the one-shot penalty and go back to the tee.

Na's second tee shot, No 3 on his card, landed almost exactly where his first did, in the nettled wilderness. And this is where professional pride made him a celebrity.

"What he should have done was go back to the tee again," said Stephen Deane, a PGA professional at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai.

"He would have been hitting his fifth shot and easily could have got out of there with an eight. But going back to the tee once is not nice, and twice is worse, and I can understand why he didn't."

Na sealed his fate when he took a hack at the ball in the briar patch. It travelled about two feet, struck a tree and banged off his thigh for a one-shot penalty. Also, by the rules, he now could not go back to the tee. It was play out of the mess he was in or be disqualified from the tournament.

Na to Harms: "What are the chances of me getting out of here?"

Harms: "Fifty-fifty."

While commentators intone, "Oh, man, this is getting worse", and "We could be here a while before we sort this out", and "He's got the head-spinning going on right now."

Na called over a PGA official, took a penalty drop, hit the ball again, and after a ricochet it landed behind him. He took several more swings, at least one of them left-handed, while so deep in the forest that he may have been swinging a machete. And when he was nearly out of the woods, his 11th shot hit a tree and landed behind him. Said Na, exasperated: "Ah, come on!"

He reached the fairway on his 13th shot, drove the green on his 14th and two-putted to "save" a 16. On his way to the green, he and his caddie chatted. Harms: "I have no idea what you have."

Na, smiling: "How are we going to count all the shots?"

Harms: "I have no idea."

Na: "Can't keep track."

PGA officials went to the video to decide that Na attempted to hit the ball 12 times and incurred four penalty shots, for a total of 16. In the days since, Na has been celebrated for not quitting, for never losing his temper and for getting the ball in the hole. Finally. "Top players never give up." Deane said.

Some comments left on the YouTube video mock Na, but many others praise him for finishing what he started, oh, so wretchedly.

"He is the anti-Tiger, a man of the people. I feel compelled to buy one of the products that he endorses," wrote one.

Na played the final nine holes in three-under par. He shot 80, but played 17 holes in four under.

Deane said he has never seen anyone need 16 shots to play a hole.

"A 12, maybe, by a beginner or a junior," he said.

And then he added his own tribute to Na. "He was able to laugh at himself. But once he got to the fairway, it's like it never happened."

We are glad, however, that it did. In an era when "professional" too often means "foul-mouthed, tantrum-throwing lout", calm, cool and relentlessly competitive Kevin Na showed us what being a professional ought to be about.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae