ATLANTA – Just like you don’t choose a woman based on who looked best at the party last night, you don’t make a Ryder Cup decision based on a tournament. A good game at the Tour Championship this week certainly won’t hurt, but US captain Steve Stricker will take another look; he will consider a player’s work over the last year, how his game fits the course, whether he can handle the Ryder Cup pressure, who he could possibly work with. Resisting the urge to respond to impulse or topicality bias is part of every decision-maker job description.
In that sense, Kevin Na Stricker’s job makes a hell of a lot harder – with every putt he kicks off weirdly early, with its ridiculous yet routine ups and downs, and with a series of great games that continued this week at the East Sea. Na scored a four-under-66 on Saturday, his second bogey-free round in a row on a layout that, unlike the previous two playoff venues, shows some struggle. He’s 11 under gross for the week, would put him in second place in a tie if that tournament had a normal score. (Doesn’t, so he’s solo fourth, seven shots behind Patrick Cantlay). This comes after a T-17 in the BMW Championship that came after a T-8 in the Northern Trust, and he’s also got two second places in the past two months.
“I didn’t really ask for a choice,” said Na. “I feel like I’m in a good position to get the captain interested. I played very well in the last third of the season, two runner-ups. Played well in the last few weeks. I feel like I’m hot in these playoffs … Captain Stricker, I don’t know what do you think? “
I’m sure he’s thinking of the 37-year-old at least now. There is general consensus that four of Stricker’s six picks are essentially spoken: Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau, and Harris English. On Friday, Daniel Berger gave the impression that he was also being called. That leaves a place for a number of candidates: Na, Patrick Reed, Sam Burns, Webb Simpson, Jason Kokrak and Billy Horschel. Na’s latest game scores well on all others, but it’s his intangibles that make his candidacy particularly intriguing.
There are many tour players putting on breathtaking shows on the driving range. Well not one of them. He’s not tall like Dustin Johnson, torn like Brooks Koepka or gifted with rhythm like Louis Oosthuizen. He doesn’t bomb it like Bryson DeChambeau or wear you down with consistency. like Cantlay. He hasn’t made a Rory McIlroy-style finish since turning pro in 2001 at the age of 17. It rebounds with almost every driver blow. There is a lot of leaning.
And yet he has the gift of getting the ball into the hole with just a few hits, damn the look. Any golfer who has lost a match to someone with a funky looking game understands the unique frustration of the experience.
“Kevin Na is like a triple handicapper who has a career lap on the PGA Tour,” a PGA Tour radio host said this week.
He’s not a handicap of three that you want to play against. Na has won four wins on the PGA Tour in the past 38 months, largely thanks to his brave attitude and a short game that his peers envy. He leads the PGA Tour in shots around the green of the season, and while he’s 94th in putting shots, he’s third on the Tour on that stat for his last 24 rounds.
“He can get up and down from a trash can,” said Billy Horschel. “One thing that is overlooked in match play is putts. Guys who can putts, who aren’t afraid to make it when it’s at stake. It could be a six-foot game in the middle of the game, or to win the game the putting in the game is so enormous. Regular putts can be very harmful to your opponents. It knocks down the other opponents and it frustrates them. “
On paper, Nas Spiel doesn’t seem to be a perfect fit for Whistling Straits, which will play for an extremely long time. Most expect the rough to be negligible to compound the Americans’ distance advantage. It takes bombers, not grinders. When asked about his course pass with the Northern Trust, Na smiled.
“The way I hit it doesn’t matter where I play,” he said.
There’s another non-bombing grinder that had a decent run at the Ryder Cups: Ian Poulter. As for partners, Na often plays practice rounds with DeChambeau. The two would be a natural pairing and take a tricky task – finding someone to play with Bryson – out of Stricker’s mind.
Na said he hadn’t contacted Stricker, he wasn’t the type to advocate a selection. On Saturday, after beating playing partner Finau at seven, although he had given up about 30 meters from the tee, Na somehow advocated a pick.
“Two-eighty on the fairway is good enough for me,” he said little bird.
“I think I can get on the nerves of the European team if I run a few putts and climb up and down from everywhere.”