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Na's misfires painful for all concerned

ESPN staff
May 16, 2012
Kevin Na's swing has come in for increased attention © Getty Images
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Let's get one thing clear - nobody enjoys it when Kevin Na is contending at the top of leaderboard on the weekend.

The PGA Tour, for one, must hate it. To have Na - and the frustrating waggles, half-swings and intentional whiffs that come with him - firmly in the mix at their most important non-major event must have been up there among commissioner Tim Finchem's worst case scenarios.

Finchem could probably picture the fans turning off their televisions as he watched Na - belatedly - claim the lead at Sawgrass heading into Sunday's final rounds.

Make no mistake, however, as hard as it was for the tour and the fans to watch Na, the man himself is not enjoying the suffering at all either.

The American is already struggling to feel comfortable over the ball - the result of recent swing changes with his coach - but the problem is only magnified when the pressure increases. Add on top of that the understandable restlessness of spectators - some of whom even heckled Na on Sunday - and it can take him anything up to a minute from address to actually hit the ball.

"I'm trying to get comfortable with my waggles," Na said, during a press conference on Saturday that was never less than brutally honest. "It's usually a little waggle, half waggle, little waggle, half waggle, and boom, supposed to pull the trigger.

"But if it doesn't work, I've got to go in pairs. So it'll go four; and if it doesn't work, it'll go six; and after that, just... there's a lot going on in my head."

That's the problem for Na, one that has often been overlooked in the rush to question his 'foibles'. It's not an intention thing, a matter of technique - it's simply a physical manifestation of some mental frailties.

Sergio Garcia went through a similar problem a number of years ago - re-gripping ahead of shots as many as 20 times, as he simply could not get into a position where he felt comfortable and ready to hit a good shot. On occasions, the issue caused him such anguish that he would literally walk away from the ball screaming in frustration.

Na hasn't got to that level quite yet, but he is trying his best to address the problem. Unfortunately, the slower he goes, the better he seems to play - while the more he speeds up, the quicker his swing falls apart. In the cut-throat world of professional golf, it's no surprise he errs on the side of caution, especially with his livelihood at stake.

The problems come, however, when the spectators begin to react negatively to him - as they did during the final round of The Players, as some critical comments were heard on the way to a round of 76 that saw him slip out of contention.

"Most of the people were great, but there's always some hecklers out there, like I was getting ready to get over the ball and you can just hear them saying, 'Hit it!'" Na said. "And I backed off and they're booing me. I said, 'Look, guys I backed off because of you'. It's not like I backed off because I couldn't pull the trigger.

"But I also felt that a lot of people were turning towards me and pulling for me, which I really appreciate."

He added: "Honestly part of it, I deserve it. But is it fair, no. You put an average guy in between those ropes, trust me, they won't even [be able to take a swing at the ball]."

Slow play is a massive problem in golf, one that certainly needs to be addressed - but Na needs to be cut a little more slack. His pace of play is not entirely intentional on his part, and he does as much as he can to negate it - almost running between shots on Sunday to minimise the amount of waiting around playing partner (and eventual winner) Matt Kuchar had to do.

The PGA Tour needs to attack the scourge of slow play, but a tour-wide policy is preferrable to individual punishment. It's the college players coming into the professional game who believe it is fine to take five hours over a sub-70 round (or at least have never known anything different) that will cause golf as much long-term trouble as Na's current, exacerbated plight.

Na is frustrating to watch, but he's trying to rectify the issue. Having waited for him for so long already, surely we can all give him a little more time to try and achieve that?

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