ERIN, Wis. – He emphasized it after his opening round: You’ve got to keep it out of the fescue at Erin Hills.
A few days have passed, but his message hasn’t changed.
Kevin Na fired a 4-under 68 Thursday at the U.S. Open, putting him three off the lead through one round. He did so despite two bogeys, but regardless he was rarely in trouble.
He hit 11 of 14 fairways as well as 13 of 18 greens and was ecstatic about his opening-round score.
“You shoot 4 under in a championship, you’ve got to take that,” Na said. “I’m very pleased.”
But the issue of Erin Hills’ fescue hasn’t faded even after a strong start. Na made waves on social media Sunday when he posted an Instagram video where he criticized the fescue at Erin Hills for being too penal.
That post in particular – as well as other fescue-related player videos – gained even more traction two days later when the USGA decided to cut the fescue in certain spots.
Does Na believe his frank footage may’ve swayed the USGA to get out the mowers? While he prudently decided not to expound on that theory, noting “that’s a no-win deal,” Na said he heard fans Thursday yelling out in support over his fescue comments.
Paul Azinger, Fox Sports’ lead analyst, deemed Na’s posting “brilliant.”
“He did the USGA and the U.S. Open a great service by drawing the attention to the severity that we’ve got this week,” Azinger said. “I thought it was hilarious. I was thinking, ‘Man, I’m sure glad I wasn’t doing social media when I was playing.’ ”
Na said he heard from other players as well, with his comrades needling him about his newfound influence.
“There were a lot of guys supporting me out there. They got a kick out of it,” Na said. “A lot of players were saying thank you, they mowed the fescue because of me. (And they joked), ‘Hey, can you tell them the course is too long, they’ll move up the tees.’ ”
After hearing all of that, Na isn’t backing off.
The 33-year-old also received substantial criticism for his post – with Rory McIlroy flabbergasted when learning some fescue had been cut – but claimed his video was mischaracterized. Some viewed it as a bashing of Erin Hills or the whole setup. Na iterated that the point was to show how in spots the fescue could be brutal and a danger for lost balls; everything else is fine.
“Some took my social media post kind of the wrong way. If you read my post, it says I love the design (of Erin Hills),” Na said. “I was just trying to show what we have in some spots. And fairways are generous. I said all that. But I guess people don’t like to read.”
Na was even nice enough to give a demonstration – albeit inadvertently – during Thursday’s first round.
A drive left at the par-5 seventh – Na’s 16th hole – nestled a yard into the fescue. Despite barely finding the tallest grass, Na said he was lucky to find the drive and quickly came to the conclusion that there was no way he could chop out with a wedge.
So he was forced to take an unplayable and drop in the the rough with a one-shot penalty. He would bogey the hole.
“(When you get in that fescue), sometimes you’re going to get lucky and you’re going to have a shot and sometimes you’re just lucky to find your ball,” Na said.
In his Instagram video post, Na also put forth the idea of having past U.S. Open winners come together and set up a major championship.
That comment raised eyebrows as well, but once again, Na remained steadfast in his belief.
“The guys that know me out here, they know I’m sometimes too honest,” Na said. “I shared my thought, and I thought it would be a great tournament if a guy like Mr. Nicklaus, Mr. Trevino, Mr. Irwin, Curtis Strange, Andy North, all these U.S. Open champions, maybe they get on a committee and say, ‘Hey, let’s set up a golf course.’ ”
Whether it’s shots or thoughts, Na won’t stop firing anytime soon.
– Jeff Babineau contributed to this report