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Na Used Home Field Advantage to Notch First Victory on Tour
Las Vegas resident Kevin Na enjoys a great deal of familiarity with TPC Summerlin, the annual site of the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open.
On Sunday, the South Korean-born 28-year-old made full use of that home-field advantage, closing with a 6-under 65 to beat Nick Watney by two strokes and get his first win after 210 career appearances and eight years on the PGA Tour.
Na, who ended up at 23-under 261, said after accepting the winner's hardware and $774,000 that the key to his maiden victory was knowledge of the greens at TPC Summerlin. "You can trust your line and hit your putt, and obviously you have to putt it on line with a good speed, but to know these greens, it's a lot of help," he remarked.
"And not only that, (caddie) Kenny Arms is a great green reader. I always ask him on every putt. So him and I combined - him being a great green reader and me being home course here, it was a great combination."
Here's what else Na told reporters during his Q&A Sunday evening.
MODERATOR: Okay. We'd like to welcome Kevin Na, the winner of the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open. Kevin, what a day, what a week for you. If we could just get your thoughts.
KEVIN NA: I'm just very excited about my first win. It wasn't easy. Nick had me -- Nick was coming right behind me, looked like any time he was going to make a move, and I tried as best as I could to stay one step ahead of him, and I think the putt on 17 basically sealed the deal for me.
MODERATOR: And then the birdie on 15 as well. That was a big birdie.
KEVIN NA: I mean I hit a terrible shot on 14. I should have backed off. I mean I always back off. And I said you know what, I'm just going to hit this, and I hit it and I made a terrible shot and made bogey, and to bounce back after that bogey, to hit that chip to three feet, I had a great chip from down there, I was able to relax a little bit. Then hit a great two-putt for birdie on the next hole. Gave me a one-shot lead. I told myself par, par, and you gotta win this golf tournament. I mean every time -- it doesn't matter where that pin is, I aim just inside the right edge of the green there and my ball flight's a draw. And I hit it, and I came out of it just a little bit, and it started straight, but it didn't turn over. And as soon as I hit it, I told my caddie, I said, it's fine. Nick's just got a hit and it rolled down and it did that.
Looked like I was in a good spot, and Nick hit a great shot in there to about inside 25 feet and very makeable putt, and I told myself, you know, seems like every time I get a chance to win these guys step it up. And I said, you know what, I'm going to take things in my own hands. I'm going to try to make this putt. And I knew exactly where the putt was going. It was left off the start and the putt goes right at the end, and I hit that putt and it was perfect, right on line where I wanted it, broke left, just left of the hole about three inches. And I just kneeled down on one knee and just praying that thing would come back. And I know it is. I'm just saying, do what it's supposed to do, and sure enough, right at center. And when I made that putt, I felt like I had the tournament in the bag.
MODERATOR: Before we open it up, something about being at home, too. You won your Nationwide Tour event at Rancho Cucamonga and now you win here in Las Vegas. Talk about that.
KEVIN NA: Yes. Hopefully I'll keep winning -- keep winning here, and if I want to win a tournament somewhere, I guess I gotta move to maybe Augusta or something.
MODERATOR: All right. Questions?
Q. How much did your knowledge of this course help you today? Like you said, you made some putts that they did what they were supposed to do.
KEVIN NA: It helps a lot because you can trust your line and hit your putt, and obviously you have to putt it on line with a good speed, but to know these greens, it's a lot of help. And not only that, Kenny Arms is a great green reader. I always ask him on every putt. So him and I combined -- him being a great green reader and me being home course here, it was a great combination.
Q. Can you talk -- I'm sure you were emotional right after, talk about you were having nightmares about finishing second, talking to your mom, just the journey, and when you were coming down, do any of those other 210 play into your mind or are you just so focused on the next shot that you're just not allowing yourself to think about what's happened in the past?
KEVIN NA: I had a lot of thought going through my head throughout the whole round. Pictured myself winning, pictured myself failing, but mostly I pictured myself winning. Honestly, after I made that putt on 17, my mind was blank and I was just in the moment and hitting my shots. I knew there was still a lot to be worked on on 18. The tee was up, and I've been hitting a lot of drivers off the tee. I love hitting 3-wood off the tee, but I haven't hit much 3-wood off the tee this week, and I was actually uncomfortable more with the 3-wood than the driver. I felt really comfortable with the driver, but I had hit 3-wood. Fortunately that flares off to the right, but I knew you got the hole roll right.
And as long as I didn't get stymied beyond the tree, I was going to have a shot and it was going to be okay. And I caught somewhat of a good break, I had a shot. I had hit it high, up and around the tree a little bit and I hit a perfect shot right where I wanted it, just below the hole, short right, but it wasn't an easy two-putt, but I hit -- people think I didn't hit a very good first putt, but that putt was actually a good putt.
Q. Kevin, everyone's going to want to always talk about this week, how you won at 15, 16 and 17. And you birdied three of your first five holes again today. What have you been doing all week, just smart, steady golf. Can you just talk about how important that was?
KEVIN NA: On this course you have to get off to a good start because the reason why, like all the guys out here said, you have to go low. If you're not making birdies, somebody else is. So if you're like even par through six, you feel like you're two shots behind everybody. And it puts more pressure onto your Back 9. And I was able to get off to a great start to stay ahead of the game, and I think that was the key for me cruising through to a victory.
Q. I think you were a lot more relaxed -
KEVIN NA: The first ball I hit in there that was a foot, and the second hole I hit about a 12, 15-footer for birdie. And then the third hole I made it off the fringe. I said I'm 3-under through four. This is looking really good.
Q. Had you ever been a guy who said, once you get the first one, you think more will come?
KEVIN NA: Yeah. I told everybody, once I get my first win, the wins are going to start rolling in. And I think it's like that for a lot of the guys. You look at a lot of the guys that have struggled, that have been good players that have struggled for their first win, and once they get that first win, it seems like a lot of guys go on and win a bunch of tournaments. I mean Duval was one of them. I know there's a lot of good players that have struggled. I can't think off the top of my head, but plenty of guys like that.
Q. Any rookies won this year -
KEVIN NA: Yeah. Like Keegan Bradley wins a tournament, turns around with a major.
Q. Does that make your journey -- I'm sure you wanted it to happen sooner, but is there something that makes you appreciate it now more because the journey was not happening right away?
KEVIN NA: I think so. The biggest heartbreak for me was losing a playoff in 2005 in Tucson. I was so young. I just turned 21 and lost in a playoff, and I always think would I be in a different position if I won then. I don't know. The answer is I don't know, but you know what, eight years was worth the wait.
Q. So do you foresee a new house in the future?
KEVIN NA: I'm fine with this house. And I want to make a couple comments about some of the players that gave me some good advice. I'm good friends with Y.E. Yang, and Y.E. told me, said, Kevin, don't try to win. Every time you try to win it's not going to happen. Just go out there and play. Almost feel like you're playing for second. That'll take the pressure off you. He goes, every time I won a golf tournament I wasn't trying to win. When I beat Tiger, he said, I wasn't trying to win. He said, he's Tiger Woods. I'm just trying to finish second. But I just played my game. And he said, it might sound funny, but it might work.
I told Kenny yesterday, I said, maybe I oughta try not to win. And I think some of you guys know what I'm talking about. I'm not really saying I'm not trying to win, but just take a lot of pressure off yourself, and I also talked to K.J., and I was talking about how disappointed I was in the Playoffs. I was sick, and I finished 71st. And he goes, if you don't make it in the Tour Championship, get into the BMW, it's not a big deal. He said, maybe you'll win a Fall Series event. Maybe it's meant to be.
Q. Did you feel like this was your fist time around, knowing you've been in this position before, you feel like you've put pressure on yourself?
KEVIN NA: You know, every time I'm in this position I feel like I'm going to win. Honestly I do. And did this week feel any different than any other week that I fell short? Maybe a little bit, but nothing ridiculous different, but I think I was a little more comfortable, maybe because I was in my hometown, my home course, but I think I was definitely ready. And I was mentally ready, physically ready, and it was just time for me to win.
Q. Going back to Las Vegas, you're living here, I know you play out here and you play at TPC Las Vegas quite a bit. Can you just talk about your off weeks, what you do, how much you play at TPC Las Vegas?
KEVIN NA: I hit a lot of balls at TPC Las Vegas. I like coming to play Summerlin. The last two -- I was off three weeks. Is that correct? Yeah. I was off three weeks, and the first week I didn't practice. And then the next two, the last two weeks before the tournament I played here every day. Every day I played 18 holes. Yes. Every day I came out and I just wanted to get -- obviously I know the golf course. I know the green. It's just the fact -- it's just a matter of making sure I'm more comfortable with the holes and the shots that I want to hit, and I played here every day, and I think that really helped.
Q. Can you talk about the velocity of the round? Are you going out for sport? Are you hitting different shots?
KEVIN NA: The first week I think I hit like two or three balls out there. Chipped around the greens, putt. And then the next week I played with like -- I played with Ernie Gonzalez. He lives out here. He's won on Tour. Scott Piercy. I played with Billy Horschel. And any of the guys that was here, I teed off and played with the local guys, and we'd get competitive, played for lunch. And you know, it's amazing how deep the pockets get for Tour players. It's a pride thing. But we had a lot of fun.
Q. A question about Las Vegas. I don't know if you're familiar, but obviously you know there's a lot of Tour players that live here. We added up, it's close to 20 or 30. You're the first guy that's ever won as a resident of Las Vegas, won a Las Vegas PGA Tour event. What kind of bragging rights does that give you?
KEVIN NA: Oh, I got all the bragging rights. I watch all the boys get on the range when I show up. I'm kidding. I think it's hard. Sometimes it's even -- I think it's more pressure for the hometown guys because, you know, all your friends and family are out there watching you play. And you want to win, it's your hometown. You're playing in front of your hometown people, but sometimes I think that adds more pressure. For me I had a lot of support. I just try to think of it, you know, they're here for me. I had to leave a lot of tickets at will call, but I was happy to do it.
MODERATOR: Anything else? Kevin, once again, congratulations.
KEVIN NA: Thank you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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