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Na, not yet

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There are several factors out of a professional golfer’s control in a tournament. They can’t do much to impact the weather, course conditions or the performances of their competitors. Kevin Na had another variable to add to the list of things that were out of his control in the final round of The Players Championship. Na didn’t have total control of himself.

Na’s preshot routine, a collection of half-waggles and full waggles that he performs in pairs before he is able to hit a shot, took an inordinate amount of time on many occasions on Sunday. Many fans snickered, some mocked him, others turned away – but everyone in the gallery felt uncomfortable during his pre-shot routine – especially him.

Imagine Na’s attempt to sleep before the final round. Yes, he’d won a PGA Tour Fall Series event last year, but this was new territory for the 28-year-old. He was in a position to win the world’s fifth biggest golf tournament, and for Christ’s sake, he couldn’t take the club back.

Na predictably stumbled in the final round, finishing in a tie for seventh place, five shots off the lead. His final-round 76 wasn’t a total collapse though – he was in contention until the 13th hole, when he pulled his iron shot in the water to the left of the green on the difficult par 3.

Na had to be exhausted when he finished his 72nd hole at Pete Dye’s masterpiece. For four days, he battled an impossible golf course, the best players in the world and also what proved to be the toughest test, the first six inches of his backswing.

Na said that he was unable to take his club back at the desired time because of a recent swing change. At address, he sets up with more weight on his left side, which feels uncomfortable to him. This explanation makes sense, but based on what I saw on Sunday, I don’t know if that’s the whole story

Na was able to take the club back with little problem on the range at TPC Sawgrass, at least at first. As the warm-up progressed, he seemed to struggle more with the glitch in his takeaway, requiring four waggles instead of the usual two. With longer clubs, he began taking even more waggles – six, then eight, then he’d step back restart.

Na moved through his shots fairly quickly on Nos. 1 through3, playing championship-caliber golf. He extended his lead on those holes over Kuchar by two strokes, and looked as though he was winning the battle against himself in the final round. But when Na reached the tee on No. 5, he began to lose the battle.

Normally, Tour players are grunting at the ball after they hit their tee shots. But Kevin Na was grunting before his ball left the tee. The frustration was evident in his scowled face. Even after backing off twice and several waggles, Na couldn’t start his backswing.

That’s why Na’s tee shot on No. 5 was so impressive. He hit a perfect drive, splitting the bunkers that protect the angled fairway. But a golfer can only grind for so long before it starts to take a toll on them. After missing the green with a hybrid, Na flubbed his chip and made bogey. Then he three-putted No. 6 for back-to-back bogeys. His energy reserves appeared to be depleting.

Na’s inability to pull the trigger wasn’t the only thing that was odd about his pre-shot routine. On Nos. 5 and 6, he backed off the ball before he hit his putts. I doubt his new setup over his full shots had anything to do with that.

“It is what it is,” Na said after the round. “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. But the average golfer has no clue how much pressure we’re playing under and how tough it is and how much of a fight for it is mentally.  I honestly think with all that going on, I did pretty well fighting.”

Credit should be given to Na for putting up one heck of a fight. On one of golf’s biggest stages, he fought his demons bravely. But it was clear that Na’s problems weren’t entirely limited to a takeaway problem. His entire game and demeanor is full of quirks.

Before Na hit a driver in the final round, he first always stretched his right triceps muscles over his head. Also, like many LPGA Tour players, before he hit his shot he required the ok from his caddie that his alignment was correct, after which his caddie would move off to the side.

On No. 14, Na meticulously tightened his shoelaces, making sure they were perfectly straight before he proceeded with his putting routine — ritualistic, definitely – obsessive compulsive, maybe.

When it was clear that Na had eliminated himself from contention, he began to play faster. He also started to play a little better. But the damage had been done, and the $1.7 million prize was going to belong to someone other than him.

Na was previously known best for being the player that made a 16 at the Texas Open. Now, he will be known as the player that couldn’t pull the trigger at TPC Sawgrass. I hope he overcomes the hiccups that caused him so much grief this week at The Players, because Na has serious game. He hits the ball extremely straight, has a great touch around the greens and is a deft putter.

Na played his heart out this week. It will be a battle for him to get out of his own way, but when he figures it out, he will find himself on top of the leaderboard many times on Saturday night at big tournaments. And in time, he will stay there on Sunday.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZakKoz and GolfWRX on Twitter @GolfWRX

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Zak is the Editor-in-Chief of GolfWRX.com. He's been a part of the company since 2011, when he was hired to lead GolfWRX's Editorial Department. Zak developed GolfWRX's Featured Writer Program, which supports aspiring writers and golf industry professionals. He played college golf at the University of Richmond (Go Spiders!) and still likes to compete in tournaments. You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZakKoz, where he's happy to discuss his game and all the cool stuff that's part of his job.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Brian Cass

    May 14, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    He says this is a weight distribution issue for his full swing….um…he was doing this with his putter as well as I recall. This has more to do with negative thoughts than it does with balance in my opinion.

  2. Feisty

    May 14, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    I feel for the guy because he is so aware of his issues. I hope they can be fixed, because part of me wonders if he’s just obsessive compulsive and he can’t fix the little twitches. It’s not the end of the world, but I think the hiccups will keep him from making it through a full tournament without cracking. He seems like a good guy, too.

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Opinion & Analysis

More Distance Off the Tee (Part 1 of 3): Upper Body Training

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If you read my previous story, Tour Pro’s Revealed: 3 Tests to See How You Stack Up, you are well aware of the fact that improving your upper body power is one of three sure ways to increase your distance off the tee. If you have not, I strongly suggest you check it out to gain some context about what is to follow and what is critical for your golf game.

Through our testing and the testing done of many of the industry leaders in golf performance, we have found that the ability of golfers to generate “push power” from their upper body is critical to maximize efficiency and speed in the swing. The way that you can test your power is simple. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Keeping your back on the chair, chest pass with both hands a 6-pound medicine ball as far as you can. When you compare this to your vertical jump as described in More Distance Off the Tee (Part 2 of 3): Lower Body Training Plan, the number in feet you threw the ball should be relatively close to your jump in inches.

If you threw the ball and it went 5 feet, you have an upper body power problem. If you threw the ball 25 feet and jumped only 14 inches, your upper body is not the problem — you probably need to focus on your lower body. It’s not rocket science once you understand what you are looking for. What can be challenging is knowing how to improve your power once you identify a problem. That is where the rest of this article comes in. What I am going to outline below are three of the most common upper body power exercises that we use with our amateur, senior and professional golfers.

The key with any power training exercise is to make sure you are as rested as possible between sets so that you can be as explosive as possible for the repetitions. Try not to do more than 6 repetitions in a set to assure that each one is as fast and explosive as possible.

Med Ball Chest Pass on Wall

This is one of the most basic exercises there is for developing upper body push power. Make sure your feet are about shoulder-width apart and don’t be afraid to use your legs to help maximize the punishment you deliver to against the wall!

Med Ball Wall Ball

Watching the video, you may be scratching you head and wondering why this is in the upper body power article when clearly the athlete is using his legs. The reason is that in the golf swing, power starts with the legs.

Med Ball Sky Chest Throws

This one is simple. Laying on your back, all you need to do is push the ball up as high as you can, catch it on the way down and the explode it back up into the air as high as you can. If you incorporate this exercise into your routine even once a week, you will see huge gains in your ability to swing faster if this was a problem area for you.

That being said, power creation requires not only speed but also strength development. It is also important that you have a solid strength program to increase your ability to generate more force. While this is beyond the scope of this article, finding yourself a solid golf fitness expert will help you create your ideal program.

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Podcasts

GolfWRX Forum Member dpb5031 talks about the TaylorMade Twist Face Experience

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Forum member dpb5031 (aka Dewey) joins TG2 to talk about his Twist Face Experience at The Kingdom. Recently, him and 6 other GolfWRX Members went to TaylorMade HQ to get fit for new M3 and M4 drivers. Does Twist Face work? Dewey provides his answer.

Listen to the podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Inside the Ropes: 5 things you didn’t know about playing on the PGA Tour

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Golf finds a way to take a hold on you… whether you become entranced by the skill of the world’s best professionals, fall in love with the feeling and beauty of a well-executed shot, or simply enjoy getting outside and having fun — the game is addictive.

I started playing at the age of 4 and began watching the pros on TV dreaming what it would be like to play golf on the PGA Tour. When I earned my PGA Tour status for the 2014 season, that dream became a reality. And like anything, it’s not until I actually experienced that life did I have any idea what it entailed.

For those of you who are curious what it’s like to be on the PGA Tour, here are 5 things to describe it.

1) The Culture

Traveling the world to various cities can be fun, and it’s an underrated part of the Tour lifestyle; you get to see new landscapes and taste the cuisines that define different regions across the country and the world. Unlike some other professional sports, where players stay in one place for maybe a night or two, we get to stay in places for a week or more, which allows for plenty of time away from the course to see the sights and get a feel for what the cities and their cultures offer.

2) The Show

The setup and time that goes into planning an event — the grandstands, concession stands, volunteers, and the whole network that makes these tournaments run — is beyond impressive. We see the finished product at the event in the epicenter of it all, but the planning goes on behind the scenes all year. When it’s game time and the golf ball gets teed up, it’s time for us players to block all of that out, but we certainly appreciate all of the hard work that goes into putting on an event. It may feel like being in a circus at times, but performing in the show is a thrill.

3) The People

The game of golf in general brings people together, but especially so on the Tour. Thousands and thousands of fans come to watch the golf action and enjoy the festivities. The Pro-Ams are a great way for the fans to get an up-close look at what goes on at a Tour event, and they’re also a great way for us pros to interact with fans and maybe provide some helpful swing tips, too. In my opinion, one of the best events of the year is the Pebble Beach Pro-Am — a gathering of pro golfers, athletes, musicians, actors and other celebrities. It’s a testament to how the game can bring people together from different walks of life.

4) Inside the Ropes

The Tour is almost like a private school of sorts. It’s a select group of a couple hundred guys traveling around playing these events. The jocks, the nerds, the geeks, the loners; you see a little of everything. As much as there’s a sociable aspect to traveling on Tour and getting to know these people, it’s a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is playing for their livelihood and playing privileges.

5) The “Pressure”

A season-long race can come down to a single shot making the difference — for some it’s between winning and losing a tournament, and others it’s between keeping and losing your card. The cameras, the grandstands, the noise… it can all be quite distracting. The idea is to block all of that out and pretend you’re playing like a kid, focusing with pure imagination for the shot. All the extra attention can help heighten the focus further, adding inspiration to “give the people what they want” and hit even better golf shots.

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