Is Kevin Na ready to be a star on the PGA Tour?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

News emerged last week about a proposed new World Golf Series that would consist of 15-20 worldwide events with purses of $20 million each. The Series wouldn’t likely be sanctioned by any of the major Tours and participating players wouldn’t automatically earn World Ranking Points that are critical for invitations to majors and top events on home tours. What do you think is the likelihood that such a Series could succeed?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I’d give this one a slim-to-none chance.  I remember 25 years ago when Greg Norman proposed something similar, and ended up losing many of the relatively few friends he had on Tour.  His concept was good and potentially very lucrative for all players, but they balked.  They didn’t want to bite the hand that fed them, and I’m sure nothing has changed.  One other thing that may also work against this concept: the public’s indignation at tournaments paying out $20million for rich white guys to play golf for a weekend.  It strikes me as obscene.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: In another publication I wrote an article about this exact subject in Jan 2017 called “Is the PGA Tour Finished”. There are other big tours around the world that are constantly trying to find ways to attract the best players and increase their revenues through satisfied sponsors. Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s CEO, is extremely innovative and would like nothing more than to grow their product. The Australian Tour and Asian Tour are also on the verge of getting bigger and the game is growing in their countries while it is stagnant in the North America. The PGA Tour has had several events this year where it appeared to TV viewers that there were more players than patrons and three events do not currently have a sponsor. IMO, the tour has never been so competitive at the top with about a dozen players who could become #1 but is that attracting new golfers, TV audiences and/or patrons? Without a growing nucleus of players, sponsors face a reduced market for their products and they will stop spending money to sponsor golf events.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I think it’s a silly idea that no one really asked for. If anything, there is already too much golf. The PGA Tour takes like a ten-minute breather after the conclusion of the FedEx Cup every year before re-starting the season, and between the PGA, LPGA, Champions and Tours, there is already more golf on television each week than any reasonable person would ever care to watch. Another elite pro tour is simply excessive. The only chance it would have of succeeding is if Tiger Woods was present for each event. And there’s really no reason to think that he would be interested. He already has tons of money, and is just looking to add a few more victories and majors to his resume before his career winds down… and this tour wouldn’t be able to offer him either of those things.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Well, money talks!  It would be tempting for the guys to want to play for that much money obviously, but if they aren’t sanctioned by anyone, I’m not sure it will fly.  World ranking points and Ryder/President’s Cup points are important to the top players, and result in more sponsorship money, so the difference in prize money might not be enough to entice them.  And if the top players aren’t there, it’ll never work.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It sounds like Greg Norman’s idea that Tim Finchem blocked then stole to form the WGC series. Also sounds like a bunch of bored oligarchs hanging around London tired of buying football teams and wanting something to do on the weekends. The $20M purse is insane and obscene at the same time. As Geoff Ogilvy points out, the biggest challenge will be getting players. They already enjoy an embarrassment of riches as #11 Tommy Fleetwood said: “My schedule this year is absolutely amazing. I’ve got the summer of Rolex Series events (on the European Tour) and you’ve got World Golf Championships and Majors, and you get to the end of the year with the FedEx Cup (on the PGA Tour) and the Race to Dubai (on the European Tour).” Right, the lads don’t exactly need, or have time for, a WGSeries.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): There are so many entrenched interests and long term stakeholders that could be hurt by the emergence of a new tour that everything that can be done do to thwart the launch of this world golf series will be done. Presumably Jay Monahan of the PGA Tour and Keith Pelley of the European Tour like being the boss, calling the shots and getting big salaries and bonuses for doing so. I don’t expect them to sit idly by and let this happen any more than Tim Finchem did when Greg Norman floated the idea 25 years ago.

The Fort Worth Invitational was highlighted by numerous rounds in the low to mid sixties but perhaps none better that the 62 Kevin Na shot on Thursday and the 61 he shot on Sunday. Na has been on a lot of leaderboards lately and likely needs just a bit more consistency to become a multiple winner on Tour yet is still better known for being one of the Tour Turtles. What’s your take on Kevin Na and do you see him becoming an elite player on the PGA Tour?

Deeks: No, I just see him being one of the better players in an era when golfers across the board just keep getting better and better.  Shooting 62 and 61 in a four-day event would have seemed other-worldly a generation ago, now it just generates a moderate “wow”.

Schurman: Kevin Na is a developing player. He has come a long way from the days when he stood over the ball for an eternity. He works very hard and seems to like the ‘stage’. I don’t see him being a dominant player but it won’t be from a lack of effort.

Kaplan: I certainly enjoyed watching Kevin Na get into a shot dispute with his caddie on Thursday. That was hilarious. But no Kevin Na is not — nor will he ever be — an elite player on the PGA Tour. That ship has sailed long ago. Dude is 34 years old and has only won four times at any professional level! I get that he went super low in a couple of rounds last week, but there are always a handful of guys every week that post ridiculously low scores. I mean, he didn’t even come away with the victory after shooting rounds of 61 and 62! Na is extremely talented and very fun to watch when he has his A-game dialled in. But an elite golfer, he is not.

Rule: Pretty impressive golf by Na on Sunday, almost holing out for a course record 60.  It’s amazing that someone can shoot 61, 62 and 73 in the same week, just goes to show how crazy this game really is.  Na is a very good player and I actually like him despite how slow he is.  He’s not as bad as a couple of years ago when he couldn’t’ even pull the trigger; that was embarrassing!  As good as he can sometimes be, I don’t see him ever becoming an elite player.

Quinn: I’m not a psychiatrist but I did take Psych 101 at U of T a while back (when computers were the size of Buicks). Na is a brilliant players, and great to watch — when he’s swinging not thinking. When he gets out of his head, he plays out of this world. He has gotten past the worst of his brain freezes, but I don’t think he’s cured. The symptoms will flare up too often in the heat of Sunday afternoons to allow him to be an elite player (Psych 101, Chapter XX1X).

Mumford: I like Na and think he might be a late bloomer. He hasn’t won a lot to date (1) but he’s a bit like Matt Kuchar – he cashes lots of cheques – and his $26 million in earnings puts him 41st on the career money list. I wouldn’t be surprised if he adds a few more victories, especially if he keeps shooting in the low 60’s. Overall though, he’s really a Tour grinder and grinders are like extras in a movie – they don’t make it to the red carpet.

With warm weather finally here, practice ranges are overflowing with golfers eager to hone their skills. My inbox reminds me on a daily basis that there is also no end of instruction available yet there is little evidence to show that either option is producing results. In your opinion, why aren’t golfers getting any better and what’s the single best piece of advice you ever received to help your game?

Deeks: Golf’s a really hard game to learn to play, and then to learn to play well.  I’ve spent six decades at it, and at one point, 40 years ago, I was pretty good… but that’s because I was playing every day for four months or more a year.  The average guy can’t do that, and that’s why he’ll always be average.  Constant play and practice are the only elements that will me you a consistently good player.  Best advice I ever had: control your temper, and learn to take the mistakes and bad breaks like a man.

Schurman: The average golfers aren’t shooting lower than they did 50 years ago. One hundred is the bench mark scoring average and it is unchanged. However, elite players are improving and while their average scores are not significantly lower, courses are maintained to a more demanding level. Green speeds are faster, courses are longer and they are watered far more. A round of golf consists of so many variables and contributing factors that improvement is very difficult. Many people who decide to make a concerted effort to improve and are successful are (successful) but only to certain point and then they level off.  In getting to the next level they face limitations that include: physical, mental, emotional, past history, financial, cultural etc. However, the two biggest hurdles are talent (or lack of) and self perception. Suffice it to say that “we are who we perceive ourselves to be”. This perception evolves from our most inward thoughts, our experiences, our culture, our history. In order to improve the way we do anything, we have change our perception of how we do it and our perception of the anticipated outcome.

The concept that most helped me was when I learned to correctly stand behind the ball and look down the fairway before taking my address. From there, I placed my feet and body from what most people would describe as an ‘open’ vantage and then shuffled myself until I was aimed correctly. Previously, I approached the line of flight from a point that was perpendicular to it and found that restricted my visualization of the entire left side of the shot.

Kaplan: I can’t speak for all the hackers out there, but many of the ones I see practicing at ClubLink do so without purpose. They get on the range and hack and hack and hack with no consideration given to alignment, tempo, posture or angles. Believe it or not, practicing the same wrong motion over and over again will not make you any better. In all likelihood, it only makes you worse!

The best tip I ever got was to go 75% in my backswing, which is a lot easier said than done. If you are an over swinger — like I tend to be — then you are probably not only crossing parallel in your backswing, but also more than likely unable to identify what a 75% backswing feels like. When I first tried it, I thought I was taking the club back 3/4 of the way… it turned out I was really bringing it back 95% of the way and convincing my brain that my takeaway was drastically shorter. When I actually only bring the club back 75% of the way, it feels like a 30% backswing. And yet, I seem to hit the ball even further and straighter than I do when I take the club back all the way because I do not cross parallel and I strike the ball more consistently in the centre of the face. Plus, it’s a more repeatable motion. Go on and give it a try next time you’re on the range. What do you have to lose?

Rule: Golfers aren’t improving because no matter how good the equipment and balls become, people don’t practice enough and are finding less and less time for golf in their lives.  The best piece of advice I ever got was not related to the swing or putting, it was a mental lesson.  I was 11 years old, thought I was pretty decent, and played for the first time with a friend of my father’s, who was a scratch.  I wanted to impress but played terribly, and didn’t handle it well.  I didn’t throw any clubs but I was miserable and apparently not much fun to play with, as my dad’s friend said after the round “I never want to play golf with you again”.  As a young kid, that comment hit me like a ton of bricks, and immediately affected my attitude on the golf course.  Despite still getting frustrated with my game at times – how can you not occasionally – my attitude on the course is generally positive and I always make sure not to upset my playing partners in any way.  And I think it has helped my game over the years.

Quinn: Greg Norman again. David Leadbetter, swing wrecker extraordinaire, told me (and I’m sure hundreds of others as it came off as a stock story) that the first time he showed Norman a video of his swing, Norman said: “My feel ain’t real.” If a player as skilled as Norman thought the club was in a different position than it actually was, the swing is a pretty difficult move to master for mere civilians and getting better is real tough. Best tip: a gentleman who joined our group for just 9 holes some years back suggested I shorten my back swing. Norman redux: I played three holes with Norman and accidentally played them one under. He asked me what I was working on? I said shortening my backswing. He asked how long I’d been working on that? I said about 10 years. He said: “Ya, that’s about right.”

Mumford: The vast majority of golfers don’t get better because they don’t want to put in the effort to apply what they learn towards making lasting changes. Ask any professional and they’ll tell you it takes weeks or months of practice to change one little thing. It’s not for lack of knowledge or teaching; it’s motivation. Amateurs only have so much time to golf and they’d rather enjoy it than work at it, even if that enjoyment is frustrating at times. The best piece of advice I ever received was to swing easy. I used to swing faster than Nick Price on speed but eventually modified my tempo. My swing may not always be smooth and silky but it doesn’t look as violent and destructive as it did when I was a teenager.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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