Kevin Na: Why He Could Win the PGA Championship
Many pros talk to their ball. Kevin Na talks with his whole body. He bends, buckles, stumbles, leans, whirls and often laughs at his own antics. At 31, the South Korea–born journeyman has become an unexpected fan favorite, even though he has but one victory, at the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children (where he was believed to have swung at and missed the ball—more on that shortly). Na has experienced, and survived, high-visibility humiliations: the infamous 16 on one hole at the 2011 Valero Texas Open; his almost endless, waggle-heavy pre-shot routine at Sawgrass in 2012 (complete with self-flagellating cries of “Pull the trigger, Kevin!”); the habitual slow play. And yet, with five top-10 finishes midway through 2015, he remains a contender and, somehow, a better person for all of it.
We’re on-record: You’re our dark-horse pick to win the PGA. You’ve made three strong showings at the Players at TPC Sawgrass, a Pete Dye design. What should we expect from you at Whistling Straits, another Dye track?
At the Players, you have to shape shots. It doesn’t favor any one golfer. Whistling Straits favors bombers.
You say that, but short hitters Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco nearly won there in 2004, and Steve Elkington was in the mix in 2010.
You’re right. If you’re playing well, it doesn’t matter. Even if you’re one of the shorter hitters on Tour, you’re not that short. It’s all relative. If you hit it 280 down the middle you can play any golf course. If I hit a good one, I know I can hit it 285 no problem.
You finished 58th at the 2010 PGA. How have you changed since then?
I’m a lot more positive, a lot happier. My personality is coming out more than in my first few years. I was a deer in the headlights. It’s not an easy world to fit in. Now I know everybody. I have more fun. I think that’s a reason I’m playing better.
You’ve always worn your emotions on your sleeve.
I’ve always been honest. I hate to bring it up because everybody does—but even at the  Players, when I couldn’t bring the club back, I said so. I was very open about what I was going through. And I never tried to hide when [at his lone win, in Vegas, in 2011] it looked like I whiffed. I didn’t whiff—I balked.
You hurt your back in a car accident. What happened?
It was late 2012. I was at a red light and an off-duty police officer—she said she wasn’t paying attention—hit me going about 45 miles an hour. Did not even hit the brakes. It caved in the whole trunk. Now I see a chiropractor once a week. The Tour provides the best chiropractors and PTs. If it weren’t for those guys, I don’t know what I would do.
You’ve earned almost $20 million on Tour. What’s your ride these days?
I sold my yellow Lamborghini. Right now I’ve got an Audi Q7, diesel, great gas mileage. Plain white. It’s awesome.
Are you surprised that you have only one Tour victory?
I’m not sure surprised is the right word. Am I disappointed? Yes. But my career’s not over. In general, players hit their prime in their 30s. I want to say that my prime is starting now.
Let’s talk about your 16 on the par-4 ninth hole at the 2011 Texas Open. You thrashed around in the woods for a while. But does anyone ever mention how you shot 4 under for the other 17 holes?
You went back a year later with a chainsaw for Inside the PGA Tour. Had you ever used one before?
I hadn’t. It was fun. That was one of the ways they got me back to that tournament: We’ll let you chainsaw some trees!
You say you’re 95 percent cured of the yips on the tee. Would you characterize yourself today as a fast, slow or average player?
We strive for that, yes.
I’m below average. I’m not the slowest, that’s for sure. I’m somewhere between average and slow. I’ve come a long way. I’m still trying. Now that’s honest.