Na Making his Mark in Hilton Head

By Associated PressApril 17, 2004, 4:00 pm
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- This pro golf thing is pretty cool for 20-year-old Kevin Na.
Na showed that Friday in the MCI Heritage with a nifty 3-under 68 that left him three strokes behind leader Ben Curtis.
And Na, the PGA Tour's youngest member, expects to hang around on the weekend at Harbour Town.
'I think for the first win, guys just breaking through, obviously you need to play well,' Na said. 'But you need some luck going your way. And yes, I do think I can win.'
He's certainly enjoying his first PGA season. Why not?
His father is there to help with his swing and give mental tips. His mother? 'She makes sure I eat right and sleep on time, keeps me focused and keeps me a good boy,' Na said, grinning.
That's part of the reason Na, whose family moved from South Korea to the United States when he was 8, bypassed a chance to go to UCLA or Arizona State.
There, he would have to split time between golf and school. He wanted the focus on the golf course, not the philosophy course.
'I thought I'd come out ahead of the guy that went through college, and hopefully in that four years, I'd be on the tour,' Na said.
A lot of college players wouldn't mind trading places with Na.
He birdied four of his opening six holes to overtake first-round leader Cameron Beckman. Then Na's inexperience came through. He chunked a chip for a bogey on the 16th hole, and later took a double-bogey on the par-3 fourth. He rebounded one last time with a chip-in birdie on the ninth.
Na has played well in the past month. He finished fourth in the Honda Classic and 28th in the BellSouth Classic after missing three straight cuts.
Na said the Honda performance made him 'more relaxed, (I) wasn't rushing anything. So I think that was a big turnaround for me.'
A victory at Harbour Town would be a major one for Curtis, the British Open champion and PGA Tour rookie of the year in 2003 who's struggled at times this season. Curtis shot a season-best 66 to take a one-stroke lead over Heath Slocum.
Curtis is atop the leaderboard for just the second time since raising the claret jug last July. He is eager to prove he's not the best major champion never to win on tour.
'I know I'm the Open champion, but at the same time you have to look past it and look to the future, not always rely on the past,' Curtis said. 'I want to prove that it was no fluke.'
So far, so good.
Curtis finished at 8-under 134, one better than Slocum, who shot a 67. Ted Purdy had a 67 and was two strokes off the lead, while Darren Clarke (66), Patrick Sheehan (66), John Huston (68), Na and 50-year-old Jay Haas (69) were three strokes back.
Curtis, who won at Royal St. George's as the 396th ranked player in the world, earned more than $1.4 million last season and was voted the tour's rookie of the year. But he has struggled to balance perks such as meeting the president and throwing out the first pitch at an Indians game with success on tour.
Curtis arrived at Harbour Town 114th on the money list and having made just one cut in his five previous tournaments, at Bay Hill. He's hoping Harbour Town helps him break through again.
'It could be,' Curtis said, smiling. 'I'm not going to make any predictions.'
On Friday, Curtis had a little luck on his side.
Curtis ranks 169th in putting this season, down from 151st in 2003. But he holed out three times, including a 109-yard wedge shot for an eagle-2 at No. 1. He also chipped in from 39 yards on the third hole and from 25 feet off the green at No. 15 -- both for birdies.
'Three zero putts,' he said. 'I haven't had three zero putts in a month.'
He rarely plays this well on tour. He shot a 64 at the WCG-NEC Invitational and tied Sergio Garcia for the first-round lead last August. But Curtis faded with rounds of 76-72-70.
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    Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

    By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

    “I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

    Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

    “If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”

    Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

    Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

    Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

    “He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

    As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

    "I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

    Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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    McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

    The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

    McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

    And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

    “I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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    Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

    No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

    Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

    With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

    “This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

    Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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    Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

    Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

    Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

    Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

    McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.