If Kevin Na’s pace of play on Saturday (and, really, any other day) was any indication, Matt Kuchar may be in for a long afternoon in Sunday’s finale of The Players Championship. One stroke back of Na’s 12-under lead heading into the final round at TPC Sawgrass, Kuchar drew the metaphorical short straw and ended up with Na as his playing partner.
“In the locker room or in the trailer, guys will be like, ‘I’ve got to play with you today, I’ve got the short straw,’” Na joked with reporters after firing a 4-under 68 to maintain the advantage he shared with Kuchar and Zach Johnson after 36 holes. “They mean it to a certain point, and to a certain point they’re kidding.”
Kuchar, who said he could not recall playing with Na before, acknowledged that the pace can get rather snail-like on tour, especially late on a Sunday afternoon.
“So you kind of learn to go slow,” he said.
Maybe, but there’s slow, and then there’s Kevin Na s-l-o-w -- a pace so glacial that he and playing partner Johnson were on the clock for part of Saturday’s back nine. Na even earned a “bad time” on the 16th hole. Knowing that two bad times would incur a one-stroke penalty, Na unsuccessfully appealed the ruling, claiming his caddie’s shadow distracted him.
For sure, Na acknowledged in a gut-wrenching interview with Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman Friday night that he was well aware of his reputation as one of the most deliberate players on tour. He also swears that he’s working as hard as he can to fix it while he -- and everyone watching -- suffers through some swing changes.
Indeed, the winner of the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Childrens Open (fittingly, a title that takes almost as long to say as it does for Na to hit a shot) explained his mind-numbing pre-shot routine as a reaction to the alterations his coach Dale Lynch has been helping him with since last year’s Masters Tournament.
“I'm trying to get comfortable with my waggles,” Na said about the problems he has setting up to hit a ball. “It's usually a little waggle, half waggle, little waggle, half waggle, and boom, supposed to pull the triggers.”
Sounding just a tad OCD-ish, Na explained that he must repeat his methodical approach “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,” Na, who knows his twitches and false starts drive fans and fellow golfers to distraction, said to laughter. "Trust me, I get ripped a lot. I know TV, Twitters and fans are tired of me backing off. I understand people being frustrated with me backing off, but ... all I can tell you guys is, honestly, I'm trying. And it's hard for me, too.
"But just bear with me, and hopefully we get that tomorrow round in."
As for Kuchar, perhaps he can play some Words With Friends or find some other way to pass the time while waiting for his opponent to wiggle, back off, waggle, wiggle some more, and maybe, sometime Sunday, hit a shot.
“I never find that much fun when you're playing golf, to be on the clock,” Kuchar said. “But I hope that doesn't cause any problems. I don't foresee it. There's a lot of slow guys out here that we play with on a regular basis, so it's part of the deal.”
Yes, Matt, but there’s slow, and then there’s Kevin Na.