PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | In a star-crossed and wind-blown Players Championship that had more engaging plot twists than an episode of Downton Abbey, the enduring image will be that of Kevin Na trying to pull the trigger.
This, despite a stirring Sunday performance from emerging American stalwart Matt Kuchar.
More’s the pity.
If you had a nickel for every amateur psychiatrist who showed up on Twitter with an opinion on Na’s malady, you could have paid down the national debt and had enough left over to write the $1.71 million winner’s check to Kuchar.
Kevin Na waggling. Kevin Na twitching, fidgeting and double-clutching. Kevin Na shadow boxing with his golf ball. Kevin Na backing off. Kevin Na barking at himself in frustration. Kevin Na trying to fight his way through swing changes, apologizing over and over.
Kevin Na prompting Charles Barkley to declare, “Welcome to my world.”
And 54-hole leader Kevin Na helplessly and, yes, unfairly distracting playing competitor Zach Johnson on Saturday.
“There’s a lot going on in my head,” Na said with a smile Saturday night.
The author John Updike once wrote, “The golf swing is like a suitcase into which we are trying to pack too many items.”
Actually, Na’s swing is pretty sound. It’s the excess pre-shot baggage that gets him in trouble. You wanted to feel sorry for him. But you needed to feel more sorry for the other guy in his pairing. Imagine the distraction.
The fact that this Players Championship ended on Mother’s Day was appropriate because – thanks to controversy that swirled around Na’s pre-shot flinches – this was, for long stretches, a tournament only a mother could love.
And that was too bad. There was so much more happening of note. Prior to the start of Sunday’s final round, here are just a few things that had gotten lost in all of Na’s neurotic shuffling:
•The quality of the golf being played by Na for three days, especially with a putter in his hand.
• The joy of watching the joy with which Kuchar – one back of Na after three rounds – played terrific golf under pressure. His swing is as flat as his demeanor is effervescent. And who else, by the way, prepares for playing in Sunday’s final group by playing tennis in the morning with his wife, his father and his father-in-law?
• The overall presence of a 23-year-old starburst named Rickie Fowler, who fashioned a seven-birdie 66 Saturday to become the overnight lurker, two behind the spasmodic Na.
Fowler’s flat-brim hats and technicolor dream clothes are catching on, and not just among kids. “I feel honored,” he said, “when there are 40- and 50-year-olds cruising around in the hat and wearing orange.”
•The struggles of Tiger Woods, who shot 74 Thursday, rallied with a 68 to make the cut Friday and faded on the weekend. Process? Progress? … Caution: Objects in Jack Nicklaus’ rearview mirror are not as close as they once appeared.
“Guys, I’ve done this before,” Woods said of his latest swing overhaul. “I’ve been through this.”
Well, actually, no, he hasn’t. He has never attempted to deconstruct and reconstruct his swing at the age of 36, scarred by a long history of injuries and surgeries and a nasty and public divorce.
• Rory McIlroy missing the cut by a bundle. Why is it that the No. 1 player in the world plays the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass like it was Kryptonite National? In three tries at The Players, McIlroy has yet to make the cut.
All of this was prologue for the madhouse at the first tee Sunday when the starter introduced Na. Thankfully, Kev-insanity quickly disappeared when he needed only two waggles before striking his first drive.
The twitches returned, mostly with his putter, and when Na bogeyed four of the last six holes on his front nine he dropped, like a moon rock, from contention.
By then the damage to the competitive drama of The Players had been done. His neuroses had hijacked the Saturday broadcasts and dispatches and spilled over into Sunday morning when the head shrinking continued unabated.
Einstein defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Uncle Albert isn’t around anymore to define Na’s problems. If he were, here might be the paraphraseology:
Kev-Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and having no idea who is going to win the pre-shot war in your brain between the golf gods and the golf demons.
“I’m trying to get comfortable with my waggles,” Na said, trying to explain the unexplainable. “It’s usually a little waggle, a 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 … .”
After that, what?
“I don’t know,” Na said. “I mean honestly, if I knew I guess I wouldn’t be having this problem.”
And we would have been able to pay more attention to the guy who actually won this thing.
At the bitter end a group of fans began heckling Na. “To be honest,” he said. “I deserved it. But is it fair? No.”
Not your call to make, Kevin.