U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III has a daunting job ahead of him: filling the four spots on his squad reserved for wildcard picks. Who’s on DLIII’s short list? Presumably he already has his favorites — and we have ours. Each day in the run-up to Sept. 12, when Love will announce three of his picks (he won’t name his final pick until Sept. 26, the Monday after the Tour Championship), a GOLF.com staffer will make the case for a player who deserves the nod. Up next, Kevin Na. Who do you think belongs on the team? Let us know here.
There are many good statistical reasons to pick Kevin Na for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. He’s one of the best iron players on the PGA Tour, ranking fourth in strokes gained approaching the green. He’s one of the most effective mid-range putters, ranking sixth on 10-15 footers, burying 37% from this make-or-break range. Hazeltine is a defined by its brawny par-4s and Na has birdied 19.52% of the two-shotters he’s played this year, 6th on Tour. He’s one of the most consistent players in golf, having finished in the top-25 in more than half of his starts, with a streak of 29 consecutive rounds at par or better that is the best in the game this season.
All of this is well and good, but Na would be a particularly potent weapon for the U.S. for reasons that transcend mere golf. He is, quite simply, an opponent’s worst nightmare. With his unusual tics, his “balks,” his leisurely pre-shot routine and his discomfort with small-talk, Na can easily take any Euro out of his comfort zone. Imagine the thoughts that will race through their heads: Why won’t he talk to me? Is he big-timing me? Does he hate me? Is he going to take 10 or 20 waggles this time? I just want to start walking after he hits his shot but I never know when that’s going to be and it’s driving me crazy. Wait, he just swung right over his ball – is that a stroke or a practice swing? Help!
Na is also a tenacious grinder, with a never-say-die attitude born from being a lifetime underdog. No one in golf fights harder for every stroke. Pair him with Zach Johnson or Jordan Spieth and the Americans would surely break the spirit of any European duo.
Capt. Love has talked a lot about intangibles in assessing his squad. That Na has never fit into any Tour clique could be viewed as a negative, but I think the opposite is true. Na spent his childhood in Korea and turned pro while in high school. He doesn’t hunt or fish or care about college football, so he has never had much to talk about with his colleagues. But he wants badly to be accepted and would be a model teammate, working hard to build relationships. No player would be more excited to be at Hazeltine and that passion would filter through the entire team.
In this new task-force era there has been a lot of cheap talk about doing things differently. So how can the U.S. pick Jim Freaking Furyk, the biggest loser in Ryder Cup history? Rickie Fowler? He’s played in two Cups and still hasn’t won a match. Bubba Watson isn’t effective in singles or foursomes, with a combined career record of 0-5 in the two formats. Selecting captain’s pick should not be a popularity contest. Kevin Na is the most outside-the-box captain’s pick imaginable. Here’s hoping Love isn’t afraid to make the right choice.