ERIN, Wis. – Kevin Na isn’t the reason the USGA dispatched a swarm of mowers and trimmers to eliminate some of the fescue lining the fairways at Erin Hills, but he’s sure glad they did.
Na gained traction with an Instagram video Sunday that shed light on the thickness of the rough that is often only steps away from the fairway edges this week at the U.S. Open. After the course received heavy rains early in the week, officials decided to cut back the fescue in large swaths on Nos. 4, 12, 14 and 18 Tuesday afternoon.
The USGA insisted that the edits were part of a premeditated plan to respond to the wet conditions and not a reaction to any response from players. Na was caught in the center of the social media firestorm, but he doesn’t believe the changes were a direct consequence of his video.
“Them mowing the fescue has nothing to do with me,” Na said Wednesday. “I think what they were afraid of was guys losing too many balls, and them having to go back (to the tee). Then there’s a pile-up, and with 156 players, it might have gotten out of hand. So they were preventing it, and I think they were being smart.”
Na didn’t realize that the grass had been cut back until he was on the course Tuesday for a nine-hole practice round and some volunteers brought it to his attention. While it may not have been in response to his post, he was still surprised by the response he received from it.
“I think people overreacted with the video. It was meant to be funny,” Na said. “I was just trying to show the fans the rough, and what we have inside the ropes, because people don’t get to see that close up. And I think it just blew up. … I think if I had laughed about it during the video instead of making it more like the news, I think people would have got a better kick out of it, maybe.”
Rory McIlroy questioned the fescue cuts given the wide fairways in play this week, and Na agreed that the targets at Erin Hills are “generous.” But he also views the fescue as an equalizer, one that could still affect the longer hitters more than those who, like him, average less than 285 yards off the tee.
Na is making his eighth straight U.S. Open start, highlighted by a seventh-place showing last year at Oakmont. He reiterated that he likes the test Erin Hills presents, and said he regrets that his video was interpreted by some as a knock on the tournament as a whole.
“The thing that I didn’t like was people made it sound like I don’t enjoy the U.S. Open,” he said. “I love the U.S. Open. I’m honored to be here, happy to be here. I love it, and I think we’re going to have a great week.”