ATLANTA – One golf tournament may not offer a player’s bid for a place in the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Again, with the flexibility to have six major choices, the American captain should not be Steve Stricker are you looking for more subtle reasons to put together the last pieces of his team? And more specifically, can be one piece Kevin Na?
The Korean-born American golfer, who became a high school student in high school and apparently existed forever, has never been on an American Ryder Cup or President’s Cup team. He has probably never been seriously considered. Who knows, maybe Stricker has already fired him.
But if Stricker makes his six picks in Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, on Wednesday, the game would be an interesting 37-year-old Na later this month.
He’s not a tall fighter and may not be fit for the cruel course of Whistle Street bordering Lake Michigan. Sometimes he had trouble driving and swinging, and it had a very slow problem.
And yet he plays excellent golf of late, putsts beautifully and is just peculiar enough to irritate a European opponent. Connect him with Bryson DeChambeau … whoever they are opposed to, they can only lose their collective mind in anger.
Na also comes from an underrated performance during the tour championship, where Patrick Cantlay was the big FedEx Cup winner. But due to the steep blow format, Na equalized Jon Rahm at 14 under par for the lowest scores over 72 holes at East Lake.
In any other tournament, Na would have played in a sudden death.
“I tried to win the secret leaderboard, where everyone started from a draw, to get Captain Stricker’s attention so I could get a captain’s choice,” he said.
Na said he does not work for a choice. But given the opportunity, well … he lobbied for a choice.
And actually, he talked more with his clubs and his putter.
Imagine him with American fans screaming as he walks into one of the wells, which he regularly did in Atlanta.
“I could not have played better,” he said. ‘I had one hole for 27 holes and the last three rounds [were] bogey-free. Could not have played better. No matter what golf course I play, I can play when I’m going. [East Lake] is a golf course that I have always felt does not fit my game. Greens are two to three clubs more than anyone on each hole, and the green is solid, if you miss the course for me, there is no chance for me.
“I drove beautifully. It was the key to a successful week.”
Here’s the thing: Na would not be expected to carry the American team. He may only play twice — perhaps only once — before singles matches Sunday of the three-day event. The same goes for some of the other possibilities Stricker has in mind. The question is whether Na fits better than the others for a specific role.
The six players who qualified for the BMW Championship were Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Cantlay. Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth are considered locks to get three of the six places. Harris Engels, who has won twice this season and is in 11th place in the world, seems like a pretty safe bet for another place.
It leaves two openings, with Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger, Webb Simpson, Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns, Jason Kokrak, Billy Horschel, Kevin Kisner and Na under the stated possibilities. Everyone has possibilities. At this point, little of it should necessarily have to do with the recent form or even long-term form.
If it was important to get to the tour championship, only Simpson and Kisner could not make it to Atlanta.
Stricker has several combinations for the team formats. Thomas and Spieth were a strong team in a losing effort in Paris three years ago. Schauffele and Cantlay played four times two years ago, 2-2, in the Presidents Cup in Australia. Morikawa, if he gets his solid iron game on track, will be expected to play both quadruple and four-ball. You can see him playing with Johnson or Koepka or Finau. Johnson is definitely a candidate to play all five games, just like Finau.
It does not leave many openings. So, why not find someone who fits in with a niche who might only play singles once or twice?
After the last jerk ended well and finished at the top of the tour championship after a draw for the 17th at the BMW Championship and a draw for the eighth at the Northern Trust. He also finished two finishes in second place.
Again, it’s less about the results and more about Na’s ability to fulfill a role. Imagine him in a four-ball with DeChambeau, who is expected to make a bunch of birdies while Na plays steadily and tries to make the press with which his partner can be more aggressive.
Sure, there are other players who could fit very well in that role. One can be Reed, who had a good touring championship admitted for double pneumonia. Reed started hitting balls just a week ago, and he showed signs of improvement every day.
“I definitely feel like I’m very much ahead, where I would say that everyone expected me to be healthy,” he said. ‘If you do not play for a while, you expect a few loose shots here and there, but as a whole, I felt like my health and the way my golf game was, I am now far ahead. To have two weeks at home to grind and get ready. I do not doubt, if I am in the team, I will be ready and be 100 percent. ”
Reed has been one of the best American Ryder Cup players since 2014. He is one of the few with a winning record. Then he was 1-2 in Paris and 1-3 in Melbourne, and his only wins were in singles.
And if Stricker is looking for a reason not to choose him, Reed’s recent health issues are a legitimate excuse.
After all, no one is going to overwhelm (he finished 58th at the 2010 PGA Tour Whistling Straits and missed the 2015 cut), but he has won four in the last three years. He leads the PGA Tour in the shots around the green. It also looks like he’s picking up a bunch of putts, which is anecdotally a shortcoming for the U.S. team in the Ryder Cup.
“I think I can put the nerves of the European team on my head and come up and down from everywhere,” said Na.
He still looks like a long shot. And Stricker certainly can’t be blamed for going with Reed, Berger or Simpson, guys who have played in previous cup teams.
But the more you think about Na …
“It’s going to be a dream come true,” Na said.