Sunday, February 20, 2011

Na PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- When Kevin Na won the 2002 Volvo Masters of Asia at 19, becoming the third-youngest winner in Asia Tour history, his father, Yong, was his caddie.
Nearly a decade later, Na will try to win for the first time on the PGA Tour while his dad, 57, tries to beat leukemia in Korea, no doubt nervously checking scores on TV or on the Internet.
Na made seven birdies and shot a 4-under-par 67 in the third round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on Saturday, getting within a stroke of leader Aaron Baddeley (67).
"I had a few loose tee shots out there, but my irons felt really great, my wedge game felt great and I rolled it great," said Na, whose family moved from South Korea to the United States when he was 8 years old. "So I think if I can find a way to put my driver in play tomorrow, I think I'll have a good chance to win."
Yong Na was diagnosed with leukemia in South Korea at the end of last year, and he decided to stay after meeting a doctor who seemed to have a well-defined plan to fight the disease. Kevin's brother moved back as well, while Kevin and his mother stayed in the U.S. She's going back to Korea to see Yong next week, and Kevin hopes to be able to give her a trophy to bring to his dad.
"I mean, he taught me how to play golf," Na said.
Kevin Na grew up mostly in L.A., and he still lives in nearby Rancho Cucamonga. He was 10 when he came to Riviera with Yong to see his first Tour event. Among the players Kevin remembers watching was Fred Couples, 51, who shot a third-round 70 and will join Na and Baddeley in the final group Sunday.
Na also remembers meeting Corey Pavin, another Champions tour pro who's in the field at this week's NTO. Pavin, who shot a third-round 76 and is 3-over for the tournament, was a big man on Tour back in the mid-90s, and he graciously posed for a picture with Na, the star-struck kid.
"I have that picture," Na said. "It's pretty funny. Corey has got the mustache, and there's this little chubby kid with glasses on. If you want to see it, you've got to pay me. It's that good."
Na started scheming and dreaming about playing on the PGA Tour, and worked hard on his game, always with Yong urging him on. Kevin was the No. 1 junior in the United States when he skipped his senior year of high school to turn pro in 2001, and much was expected of him. But other than the win in Korea, and a victory at the 2006 Mark Christopher Charity Classic on the Nationwide tour, he's had fewer highlights than expected. He's had three seconds and four third-place finishes on Tour, but still no trophies.
Maybe this time will be different; maybe it will help to be playing for his father.
"When we first found out, it was really hard," Na said. "But I want to stay positive, and I just--you know, I just try to think of him, that he's healthy. And hopefully--they really don't know what's going to happen because the next year is very important for him. He needs to take medication exactly on the dot when he needs to, and if that works out and if it gets better, he might extend his life, but who knows. I mean, I really don't want to go any further than that."
(Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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