ORLANDO, Fla. – For the second straight week, Kevin Na’s reputation for slow play has placed him squarely in the crosshairs at a PGA Tour event.
After rekindling pace-of-play discussions at the Valspar Championship, Na was heckled by multiple fans during his round Friday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The situation reached a critical mass mid-way through the round, when a visibly frustrated Na conducted an animated discussion with PGA Tour rules official Mark Russell in the middle of the first fairway, his 10th hole of the day.
“There were some folks out there hassling him,” Russell said.
According to Russell, no fans were ejected Friday as a result of comments directed at Na. During their mid-round discussion, Russell offered to increase the security following the group of Na, Ryan Moore and Scott Stallings, an offer that Na accepted.
Na is known as one of the Tour’s slower players, and his difficulty hitting shots in a timely manner drew attention while he contended at the Players Championship in 2012. The spotlight returned again last week in Tampa, where Na tied for second while paired with the speedy Robert Garrigus over the weekend at Innisbrook.
After shooting a 1-under 71 Friday to move into a tie for 16th, Na refused to comment on the situation and would not elaborate on what was said by members of the gallery.
“I had a long day, guys. Can I go?” Na said. “I’m sorry. I really had a long day.”
According to Stallings, Na’s frustration was rooted in more than just a single incident.
“It was all day, both days. He handled it great, but he just got fired up,” Stallings said, adding that the comments directed at Na included “stuff that doesn’t need to be repeated.”
“He’s trying his absolute best,” he said. “It’s unfortunate … He had every right to be frustrated.”
Moore offered some specifics about a situation that he said occurred Friday on the No. 13, the group’s fourth hole of the day.
“There was an instance earlier in the day where someone was yelling something way up from the green while he was standing over his (approach) shot,” Moore said. “I mean, you don’t want that. You don’t want that to happen to anybody. That’s just disrespectful.”
Russell was similarly empathetic toward Na’s plight Friday at Bay Hill.
“He’s just out there trying to play golf,” said Russell. “It’s hard.”
Starting the season on a major medical extension, Na has had a successful 2013-14 campaign to date. He has made 7 of 10 cuts this season, including a T-3 finish at the season-opening Frys.com Open and a tie for fourth at Pebble Beach.