CARMEL, Ind. – Kevin Na’s decision last week to pull out of the Deutsche Bank Championship could affect more than his bank account. It also may have jeopardized his unlikely bid for a Ryder Cup spot.
Last Monday, he was 14th in the FedEx Cup and 20th in Ryder Cup points. Another high finish would push him closer to the $10 million bonus, and further onto the radar of U.S. captain Davis Love III.
But some decisions are easier to make than others.
Na withdrew from last week’s event after his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, Sophia Ria, on Aug. 29. That was four days before the start of the opening round at TPC Boston. He could have flown in from Las Vegas, he said, but “I think I did the right thing. I felt like my wife needed me there. I felt like she could use my emotional support.”
And so he bailed, even though his decision could prove costly over the next few weeks. Na’s withdrawal dropped him from 14th to 23rd in FedEx Cup points, and from 20th to 22nd in the Ryder Cup standings.
Only the top 30 players at the end of this week’s BMW Championship qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship. It’s a major goal for players like Na: An appearance at East Lake guarantees a spot in the year’s first three majors.
The Ryder Cup picture is even cloudier. Love will make three of his captain’s picks on Monday morning, and Na missed the opening of a two-week audition.
“I knew I was doing the right thing so it wasn’t difficult to make a decision,” he said after opening with a 3-under 69 Thursday at Crooked Stick. “I knew it was going to hurt me a little bit, but I was willing to make the sacrifice that it was going to take. I was willing to take the hit.”
We’ll never know how Na would have played in Boston, of course. (He had only one top-30 finish there in nine previous starts.) But few players have been as consistent this season. His eight top-10s are the fifth most on Tour, behind only Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Jason Day and Matt Kuchar.
Two of those Americans are already on the Ryder Cup team, and the other, Kuchar, seems likely to receive a pick.
But there hasn’t been nearly as much discussion about Na. Perhaps it’s because he has never played in a biennial match. Or maybe it’s because of his reputation as a slow player. Whatever the case, if Love wants to make an outside-the-box pick on Monday, or in the hours after the Tour Championship, he should seriously consider adding Na.
Love is said to have an "unofficial" points list, which is good news, because the Ryder Cup task force decided two years ago that fall events would no longer count toward the standings. The rationale, Phil Mickelson said, was that the fall events were “giving the bottom half of the Tour a three-month head start over ultimately the top guys.” Even PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem admitted that he “whiffed” on that move.
Na just so happened to play some of the best golf of his life in the fall. He lost in a playoff in Napa. He tied for second in Vegas. He shared third place in Malaysia. Sure, he pocketed more than $1.3 million over that three-week span, but he had no Ryder Cup points to show for it.
“I talked to Davis about it at the beginning of the year,” Na said. “It was definitely disappointing news. I didn’t know. That kind of sucked.”
Had the fall counted toward the standings, Na would rank as high as ninth, not 22nd, on the points list. He would have nearly locked up an automatic spot. He would have been impossible to ignore.
Instead, he’s likely to be overlooked for a safe pick, for an American who is stumbling toward the finish line. Take your pick: Rickie Fowler shot 75 on Thursday. Bubba Watson doesn’t have a top-10 on Tour in six months. J.B. Holmes has three missed cuts and no finish better than 33rd in his last five starts. Jim Furyk, the losingest player in U.S. history, didn’t even qualify for the third playoff event.
So why not Na?
Sure, it’s fair to wonder how he would handle the crucible of the Ryder Cup – this is a man who couldn’t pull back the club when he played in the final group at The Players, and Hazeltine might send him into a full-blown panic attack. But with his bizarre antics, feisty attitude and killer short game, it’s easy to see him aggravating the heck out of the Europeans.
Asked what he’d bring to the U.S. team, Na said: “I hit it really straight. I’m a good putter. I have a great short game. I’m a fighter. I’m a guy that’s going to be pretty steady and you know what to expect when I tee it up. I’m always right there.”
Though Na might not have any Ryder Cup experience, he did go 2-0-1 in the WGC-Dell Match Play this year. Even halved a match with Rory McIlroy, Europe’s best player.
“It would mean a lot,” he said of playing on his first team. “One of the things I dream of is making the Ryder Cup team.”
And with that, he hurried out of the scoring area. No surprise. He was late for his FaceTime date with Sophia.