Yes, Kevin Na is one of the slowest players on the PGA Tour. And, yes, his pre-shot routine can make even the most tolerant of seasoned watchers whip a few dozen Pro V1s through their TV screens in the time it takes the 28-year-old to wiggle, waggle, squirm, back off, and fuss before taking a swipe at his golf ball.
But the reprehensible way so-called “fans” treated the struggling one-time tour winner during The Players Championship finale on Sunday was far more outrageous and deserving of censure than a guy turtling his way around a golf course. While some observers believe Tiger Woods and his tour brethren should just get used to cameras clicking on their back swings and other ambient noise (like the jeers and raspberries emanating from the bleacher creatures on the 16th hole at the Phoenix Open; hey, at least that’s non-partisan heckling), even they would likely view Sunday’s demonstration of ill will more suited for a hated football rival than a competitor in a golf match.
Na even blamed himself for the rude and coarse conduct that enveloped him as he, uncharacteristically, hurried around TPC Sawgrass amid an understandable meltdown that was truly painful to watch.
''It is what it is,” the 54-hole leader told reporters after fading to a T7 finish -- five strokes off the pace of winner and playing partner Matt Kuchar. “I do need to work on what I need to -- I do need to work on my pre-shot routine. I do need to play faster.”
No argument here, but Na deserved credit for spilling his guts to reporters about the ghastly impact his swing changes were having on his game and pace of play. He probably should have expected a modicum of heckling from a few jerks outside the ropes. But what he could not have foreseen, and most definitely did not deserve, were the boos and taunts he received from a group of thugs whom officials should have ejected for interfering with play.
Still, Na declined to call them out for their boorish behavior, choosing instead to shoulder the responsibility for the out-of-bounds reactions to what LPGA Tour star Christina Kim would undoubtedly term his “slower than evolution” crawl around the links. Indeed, Na’s harshest words were a plea for civility.
“You know, when I'm over the ball, it would be nice if it was quiet. But just guys, you can hear them talking, like ‘pull the trigger, pull the trigger, hit it,’ which makes me back off even more. So that part was a bit tough,” he said. “I was getting ready to get over the ball and you can just hear them saying, ‘hit it,’ and I just got over the ball. And I backed off and they're booing me. I said, ‘look, guys I backed off because of you guys.’ It's not like I backed off because I couldn't pull the trigger.”
With all that (plus the requisite “na na na na, goodbye” chanting) going on, Na did his best to speed things along, for Kuchar’s sake.
“I know the whole world is watching. I'm trying to play as fast as I could,” he said. “I was 40 yards ahead of Matt basically trying to sprint out to my ball so I can get to extra time.”
Na ended the week with a pledge to continue refining his tortuous ritual, but could not promise an instant cure.
“I’m going to try to take out the whole waggle, no waggle,” he said. “But it's going to take time, practice and tournaments, and I'm going to try to take out the whole waggle. Honestly, it's going to be a battle.”
You have to be completely heartless not to feel for this guy, and we sincerely hope he conquers his demons and gets whatever help he needs (a session or two with Yani Tseng's Vision54 gurus couldn’t hurt) to be able to step up and smack the ball without all of his nervous tics.
If not, it’s going to be a long season -- for him and for us.