Mostly yip-free, Na ready for another shot at Players

By Rex HoggardMay 8, 2015, 8:29 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Only those who have emerged from that dark place can understand.

“I had the yips, that’s what it was,” Kevin Na said on Friday at TPC Sawgrass.

It’s one thing to accept the slings and arrows of the affliction that must not be named (yips), but it’s an entirely different level of intensity to own it the way Na did following a second-round 69 at The Players.

Forget what you may think you know about Na, the 31-year-old has no interest in false modesty or self-indulgence. Following another solid round on the Stadium Course he readied himself for a trip down memory lane most, if not all, would be reluctant to take.

In 2012, Na began Sunday’s final turn at The Players alone atop the leaderboard, just as he is now, and something of a marked man because of a languid pre-shot routine that sparked golf’s version of an unruly mob.

After making a bogey at the fifth hole, Na was waiting on the sixth tee box when the onslaught began.

“Some guy in the crowd yelled, ‘You better not start choking, I’ve got a $1,000 on you,’” remembered Kenny Harms, Na’s caddie. “And then the heckling started and didn’t stop.”

Fans screamed at Na from across the lake while he waited on the ninth tee box, “Pull the trigger, pull the trigger.” Crowds began counting as he settled in over shots, frozen by indecision and fear.

The seeds of doubt had already been firmly planted on the eve of the final round when he and Harms returned to their rented house after dinner and settled in to watch some television.

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“I turned on the TV and it was on Golf Channel,” Harms said. “Kevin came over and I said, ‘You’re not watching this.’ We went back and forth and I went to my room. I didn’t want to watch it because I knew what was going to happen. It was going to be three hours of absolute, constant abuse.

“When you listen to that for three hours, some of it is going to sink in.”

In reality, it was more like eight hours of abuse counting Sunday’s final round at the ’12 Players, where he closed with a 76 and tied for seventh.

Three years removed from that shocking Sunday, Na can now smile about the incident but it took some time. He arrived at his next Tour start in 2012 with a completely reworked pre-shot routine and a determination to break out of his mental malaise.

He’s hardly the first player to face the gripping debilitation of the yips, but he was certainly one of the few who had to do it while in contention at one of the game’s most important events.

“A lot of the guys when you have that they fall off the planet,” Na said. “They play poorly and nobody really sees and hears about it. The weird thing was I was playing some of my best golf and I couldn’t take the club back, and the whole world saw me do it.”

Although he still holds the distinction of being one the Tour’s slower players – his group was put on the clock on Friday, although Harms said it wasn’t Na who was holding them up – the demons he battled in 2012 have slowly been pushed down into a psyche that goes much deeper than the average Tour player’s.

That’s not to say Na is cured.

“I still have 5 percent left in me,” he smiled.

Na explained that there were a host of technical issues that led to his psychological paralysis – a new swing theory, a dramatically shifted balance point and a body that was reluctant to make the transition.

The mechanics aside, however, the fix has had less to do with swing theory than it does psychology.

“We try to feel the shot from the target in,” Na said. “Like, if you’re in the trees and you see a hole, you see an opening and you’re trying to feel that opening and you hit the shot, instead of trying to manufacture something here [pointing to the ground].”

There are still moments of indecision, moments when the body is willing but the mind refuses repeated calls to action.

Along with his inability to “pull the trigger,” Na also introduced the surreal habit of addressing his ball, taking the club back but at the last second swinging over top of the golf ball. It’s a move that lingers.

“Still happens about once a week,” said Na in his signature matter-of-fact style. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I do it over the weekend [at TPC Sawgrass].”

What will be different this time will be Na’s outlook. The player who was frozen with fear in 2012 has evolved into a realist determined to enjoy himself regardless of the stakes.

The same guy who was consumed by the moment three years ago is now content to savor it.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to enjoy what’s going on right now, which I have been the first two days," he said. “If I keep enjoying myself, the good results are going to come.”

What else would one expect from a player who stared down the yips on one of golf’s brightest stages.

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

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McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

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Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.