Dreams for a Sick Father

By Randall MellFebruary 20, 2011, 7:47 am

Northern Trust Open

LOS ANGELES – With rain beginning to fall again Saturday at Riviera Country Club, Annie Na tucked her cell phone under her arm and scrambled for cover on the back steps of the clubhouse.

She knew a very important call from halfway around the world would be coming any moment.

With the third round of the Northern Trust Open now complete, she knew “Papa Na” would be calling.

That’s what they call Annie’s husband, Yong Na, father to PGA Tour pro Kevin Na.

Papa Na’s sick, he’s fighting leukemia, and even though he had to wake before sunrise back in Seoul, South Korea, to follow Kevin’s progress, Annie knew her husband was glued to his computer the entire round. 

Kevin Na
Kevin Na is playing for his father, who is battling leukemia. (Getty Images)

With Kevin posting a 4-under-par 67, Annie knew Papa Na would be thrilled. Kevin will go off Sunday in the final pairing in a bid to win his first PGA Tour event. He’s just one shot behind the leader, Aaron Baddeley. They’ll both be paired with Fred Couples, who at 51 will be the overwhelming favorite among fans wanting to see “Freddie” win this event for the third time.

While this might be Couples’ venue, a course he loves, it’s practically Na’s backyard and just as special to him. Kevin was born in South Korea, but his family moved here when he was 8. He grew up in nearby Rancho Cucamonga. When he was 11 years old, Papa Na brought Kevin to Riviera Country Club, where Kevin got to watch his first PGA Tour event. Kevin followed Couples that week, and he even got an autographed photo of Corey Pavin, the winner that Sunday in 1995. Kevin says he’s still got the photo.

Annie knows all of this makes Papa Na burn to be here.

“Papa Na will call wanting to know how Kevin’s feeling, how he’s looking, how he’s sleeping,” Annie said. “He can see Kevin’s shots on the computer, but he can only see the lines with Shot Link. He’ll want to know about certain shots.”

And as Annie’s saying this, her cell phone begins humming.

“Yes, this is Papa Na now,” Annie said.

There was a lively exchange in Korean, Annie knowing exactly what Papa Na wanted, with Annie promising to call again later with more news.

“This is very therapeutic for Papa Na,” Annie says.

And inspiring for Kevin Na.

“I would really like to send the trophy back over to him,” Kevin said after his round.

Papa Na is 59 – a retired businessman. His oldest son, Austin, Kevin’s only sibling, is a professor in sports management at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. Austin's watching over Papa Na. Annie’s heading back over again next week.

“My father was diagnosed with leukemia at the end of last year when we were in Korea,” Kevin said. “He met a great doctor there who’s really helping him out.

“When we first found out, it was really hard. I want to stay positive, and I just . . . I just try to think of him, that he’s healthy. They don’t really know what’s going to happen, because the next year is very important for him. He needs to take medication exactly on the dot, exactly when he needs to. And if that works out, and if he gets better, it might extend his life. But who knows? I don’t really want to go further than that.”

Kevin, 27, had a wild run up the leaderboard Saturday in a round of seven birdies and three bogeys. He was a gifted junior who turned pro at 17. In seven full seasons on the PGA Tour, he’s steadily become a factor with an improving game. He can be an erratic driver, but he’s got a terrific short game and is a good iron player. He made the Tour Championship the last two seasons and has three times finished runner-up in PGA Tour events.

“Kevin’s got unbelievable imagination around the greens,” said Kenny Harms, Na’s caddie. “And he’s an unbelievable putter.”

Harms was with Hale Irwin for eight years before picking up Na’s bag for the first time at the Canadian Open in 2008. He was Hubert Green’s caddie before that.

“At the Canadian Open, I told Kevin’s father, `Your son has the type of game that wins majors,’” said Harms, who became Na’s full-time caddie in ’09. “He tends to play better on the tougher courses.”

Na’s got a reputation as one of the most intense players on tour. That’s rubbed some players the wrong way and not always served him well. In the final round of the Tour Championship last year, Na got some bad publicity for losing his temper at the 18th tee. After a bad shot, he angrily slammed his driver into the turf, taking a small chunk out of the tee box.

'I'll be honest, yeah, the behavior on 18 wasn't good,” Paul Casey, who was paired with Na and had a chance to win, said at the time. “I don't really care. I think it's bad for the game.'

Like it or not, Na’s intensity is part of the chemistry fueling his rise in the ranks. He’d love to take his largest step yet with a win Sunday.

“Kevin has so much potential,” Harms said. “It’s just a matter of time and experience for him.”

Na hopes his time comes Sunday at Riviera.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

Getty Images

Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

Getty Images

Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.

Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

Getty Images

Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

Getty Images

NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)