https://www.gannett-cdn.com/gannett-web/apps/teal/dist/vendor/hls/hls.light.0.12.4.min.require.jshttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/sdkloader/ima3.jshttps://www.gannett-cdn.com/gannett-web/apps/teal/dist/vendor/ias/ias-3.5.1.min.jshttps://www.gannett-cdn.com/gannett-web/apps/teal/dist/vendor/adobe/MediaSDK.2.2.0.min.require.jshttps://www.gannett-cdn.com/gannett-web/apps/teal/dist/vendor/comscore/streamsense-188.8.131.52316.min.jsCLOSE Desert Sun golf writer Larry Bohannan and sports columnist Shad Powers preview The American Express in La Quinta, Calif., on January 16, 2021. Palm Springs Desert Sun
When he won the Sony Open in Hawaii last week, Kevin Na said he hopes to win on the PGA Tour every year and expects to win on the right courses.
So are the courses at PGA West in The American Express the right courses?
“So the answer I’m going to say is ‘nah,’” Na said with a laugh. “You can interpret that as whatever, how you want it. It is my last name, so you interpret it how you want.”
Na, who grew up in Diamond Bar, has played in The American Express 16 times, posting just one top-10 finish, a tie for third in 2016. That year included Na shooting a course-record 62 for the tournament on the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West, so Na knows he can shoot the scores needed to contend this week.
“I finished third here, so I had a chance to win here. In the correct conditions, in the right conditions for me, I have a chance here,” Na said. “There are some long golf courses where on paper, I don’t look good, but I’ve been successful, like Memorial. On paper, obviously, that’s a bomber’s course, but I’ve had success there. And I’ve lost in a playoff, I had top-10s, and I’ve been successful there.
“On paper, am I the favorite? No,” Na added. “And it’s, like I said, we’ll see who shows up on Thursday, but it’s not out of the question, like Torrey Pines or something like Bethpage Black is another one. But I mean there’s something — like East Lake, I feel like that’s a tough one for me. There’s some courses that I don’t feel good at. But this one is not bad.”
Na may not be the favorite this week in the desert, but he does come into The American Express as the hottest player in the field. His victory at the Sony Open last week was the fifth of his career, and it marked the fourth consecutive season that the 37-year-old Na has won on the PGA Tour.
Kevin Na practices on a newly built putting green at the American Express at PGA West in La Quinta Wednesday. (Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)
A long, winning career
Lasting on the tour for so long and playing his best golf in his middle 30s is a testament to hard work, Na said.
“I’ve always been a positive thinker. I know I’ve gone through a lot of tough times having, not being able to win, some yips,” Na said. “I mean, I’ve gone through quite a bit, but I’ve always stayed positive. I kept believing in myself, and more people around me believed in me, helped me believe in myself. And I think that’s been the key to a steady career and having more success as I get older.”
For now, Na is happy with his game, but he’s also aware that on longer courses, he struggles to keep up with the longer hitters of the modern game. That fact is shaping the way he is working on his game.
“We work on speed. Look, I’m just trying to max out what I have and I’m not going to make a ton of changes,” he said. “At 37 years old, I don’t think I can change my body that much and I just don’t think that works for me. I’m going to maximize what I have and I’m a great – I’ve got a great short game, I got to keep that up. But I’m trying to always push myself to get my numbers up a little bit.”
While Na has played in The American Express for 16 years and played junior events in the area before that, this week’s tournament will be a different one for Na and the other players. With restrictions and protocols stemming from the coronavirus pandemic meaning no fans will be in attendance, no pro-am will be played and La Quinta Country will not be used this year, Na knows this week will have a different feel in the Coachella Valley.
“We’re disappointed that the amateurs are not part of the tournament this year. Playing this tournament 16 years out of the 18 I’ve been on tour, you get to meet all the amateurs and a lot of the same guys keep playing and you become friends with them and you catch up with them here, see how they have been doing over the year,” Na said. “And some guys I’ve stayed in contact with, and it’s too bad that they’re not here. We’re going to miss them.’
“And we’re going to miss La Quinta Country Club,” he added. “It’s a great golf course, fantastic greens there every year. We’re going to miss that.”
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism: Subscribe to the Desert Sun.