When Kevin Na received an e-mail to register electronically for the Masters, he joked on social media, “Why isn’t there an ‘I decline’ button.” He laughed at the recollection, but as he prepares for what will be his 11th appearance at Augusta National, he knows as well as anybody the reason why one button will suffice. “I don’t think there is anyone in the world that would decline,” he said.
Already securing a spot in the first major of the year is one reason for Na to smile. He’s also coming off arguably his best season, which included two wins, a berth in the Tour Championship, and a third-place finish in the FedEx Cup. During the off-season, he also teamed to win the QBE Shootout with Jason Kokrak in December. Now, Na returns to the site of his latest official victory, where he credits a 5-wood to 15 feet at the devilish 13th and the birdie he made there as the key to prevailing by one stroke at last year’s Sony Open in Hawaii.
“Over the putt, I was like, ‘Man, I really need this one,’ and I was really happy to see that one go in,” he said. “You know, just kind of loosened me up a little bit, too.”
After enduring a nearly seven-year winless drought, Na has won in four consecutive seasons on the PGA Tour and enters this week ranked No. 27 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He’s evolved from a consistent contender who rarely closed the deal to a consistent winner as he’s learned to control his emotions under pressure.
“I went so many years without winning that I kind of forgot that feeling, and when I validated it at Greenbrier (in 2018), it made me hungry for more. When you do it again, you know, it seems like the next one comes easier,” he said. “Before, it was like, ‘Can I do it? I don’t know.’ Now I know if I put myself in that position, I’ve got a good chance of pulling it off.”
Na, who ranked 170th in driving distance each of the last two seasons, knows he has to pick his spots, or as he put it, “certain golf courses, 20th place is maxing out for me.” Waialae Country Club on the Big Island is a golf course that always has fit his brand of small ball, which relies on accuracy with his irons, a delicate touch around the greens, and walking in putts when he’s in a groove. Measuring in at 7,044 yards, Waialae falls into the category of courses where Na doesn’t feel he starts at a disadvantage before he even tees off.
Kevin Na lines up his shot on the first green during the third round of the Tour Championship golf tournament Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Photo by Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
“Waialae is a great golf course. It’s a golf course that anybody can win at,” he said. “You don’t have to be one style of game. It’s whoever is hitting it the best and putting the best.
“It’s a golf course that you don’t have to overpower, and I think because of my good iron play, I have an advantage here and you have to make some putts. There are other golf courses out there, the ones I’ve won, like Colonial is a great example. I think Hilton Head is one of the tournaments I’d like to win to get it off my checklist. And the Players Championship is a golf course that you’ve seen all kinds of winner, all kinds of style of players. There’s still plenty of golf courses left in the schedule that I’d like to win.”
Na won twice in 2019 and failed to make the U.S. Presidents Cup team and didn’t get chosen as a Captain’s pick by Steve Stricker for the Ryder Cup team last fall despite being in fine form. To hear Na tell it, three wins before the team that will represent the Stars and Stripes at Quail Hollow later this year gets selected would make him a slam dunk for Davis Love III’s squad.
“If you’re automatically qualified, you don’t have to depend on a Captain’s pick, then there’s no issue,” Na said. “So I just need to play a little better.”