News & Opinion

After fescue rescue, Na cuts Erin Hills down to size

ERIN, Wis. – After Kevin Na posted on Instagram about how "almost unplayable" the fescue at Erin Hills can be, players thanked him Tuesday and Wednesday when the USGA elected to mow wide swaths of it down on several holes. Of course, this led several pros to think even bigger.

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In his Instagram post, Kevin Na takes a swipe at Erin Hills’ fescue.

"Will you tell them the course is too long? Maybe they'll move up the tees. Say the greens are too fast and maybe they'll slow them down," said Na, recounting some of the suggestions he heard.

Na laughed and explained that his social-media post (http://bit.ly/2s75L4d) had been misconstrued. He is a fan of the course, and the design, and he had reason to smile after his start. Na carded six birdies en route to a 4-under par 68, and he trails first-round leader Rickie Fowler by three strokes.

Na drove it well, hitting 11 of 14 fairways, but suffered one of his few blemishes on Thursday when he failed to avoid the hay on the par-5 seventh hole.

"I was literally a yard into the fescue, and I was lucky to find it," Na said.

"Give me the wedge," he commanded longtime caddie Kenny Harms.

"No chance," Harms responded.

"Let me see," Na said. "Oh, yeah, you're right."

He called an unplayable, took two club lengths out of the rough and made bogey. 

Most of the attention generated by Na's Instagram post focused on the fescue. But he also mentioned an idea worth kicking around. Na suggested that former U.S. Open champions should be allowed to set up the championship course for play. Harms, who has caddied for five players who won U.S. Opens, seconded the notion. It's an intriguing idea.

"How much publicity would it bring if the USGA had Jack Nicklaus set up the next U.S. Open?" Harms said. "Think about that. How cool would that be?"

Harms has looped at his fair share of Opens and majors, and he questioned the setup, particularly the width of the fairways. On the longest course in U.S. Open history, 44 players broke par and 7 under topped the leaderboard.

"That's not a U.S. Open," Harms said. "I predict 12 under wins. That doesn't win a U.S. Open unless it's Tiger [Woods] in his prime or Rory [McIlroy] on a wet course. You have to have 25-30 yards wide, with penal rough. This just goes to show that 7,800 yards doesn't slow these guys down."

Harms and Na have been a team for nine years. A lack of self-belief, at times, has prevented Na from reaching his full potential. This season, illness has been his biggest culprit. He got food poisoning in Mexico, followed by gastritis and is finally healthy. Harms has Na drinking a vegetarian shake called Living Fuel. The last time Na drank it on a daily basis, he won his only PGA Tour event, in Las Vegas in 2011. 

Na also found something on the range Tuesday that clicked, helping him to get through to his left side. And he also has implemented a new technique on the green. He's putting left-to-right putts with the claw grip and right-to-left putts cross-handed. Based on video that Harms took of Na putting with both styles of grips as well as conventional, Na made the switch a few weeks ago at the Korea Open.

So far, it's working. Na ranked second in strokes gained putting Thursday, at plus-4.223.

Na is one-third of the way to Harms' magic number of 12 under with three days to go.

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak