He approached the tee on No. 9 cruising along at 1-under par. A seemingly innocuous par 4 that measures 460 yards, PGA touring pro Kevin Na was looking to wrap up his front nine in the first round of the Valero Texas Open in fine style. His game was sharp, well at least it was until this particular hole was over.
His tee shot went way right into a thicket that could have hidden several maverick steers in the glory days of the Old West. Na and his caddy found the ball, and after looking at it for several moments they decided the best thing to do was to declare it unplayable and head back to the tee.
A well-placed second shot from the tee box would leave Na lying 3 in the fairway with an iron into the green. Time to cut his losses and move on. This would have been great strategy had his second tee shot not followed the same course as the first one. Back into the brush he went and two bad shots were followed by a worse decision. This time Kevin Na decided to try to play his way out to that elusive fairway.
It only took 10 strokes to accomplish the goal of getting out of the muck. The strokes included two left-handed shots, a whiff and a penalty when one of his shots hit some kind of obstruction and came back to strike him, adding a one-stroke penalty insult to a potential injury.
Finally out of the trash and into the rough (he never did find the fairway), Na hit onto the fringe of the green and two-putted for a robust score of 16. A SIXTEEN! I think Bowzer from Sha Na Na could have beat that score. The man went from 1 under to 11 over in one fell swoop. To his credit, Kevin Na went 3 under on the back nine and shot an 80. Not bad with a 16 on the card, but he would not make the cut.
The score posted by Kevin Na on the ninth hole that day was the highest since 1998 when one John Daly decided to play a little Tin Cup at Bay Hill. Daly elected to hit several shots before clearing the water on a par 5 and carding an 18. Yes, this is the same John Daly who walked off Pinehurst when his second-straight putt from off the green rolled back to him off the bathtub slick greens. He had had enough and promptly quit, loudly suggesting the greens were totally unfair.
When I saw the score and the video replay of the Na carnage, I tried to think if I ever had seen a hole that took me as many strokes. I could not recall a score that high, but I decided to ask some of my friends. Maybe they had shot a big score. So I asked around, and here's what I found.
I asked Mr. Eynon, the oldest golfing friend I have, if he had ever recorded a score of 16. His response: "Na, you see I only have 14 clubs in my bag, and when I hit a bad shot with one of them, it doesn't come back out for a few holes. Therefore a 14 would be my maximum score."
Now, Mr. Eynon actually carries 16 or 17 clubs in his bag just to see if he can get a rise out of his playing companions, but I get his logic. You get anywhere near a 16 on a hole and all of his clubs might find their way into a water hazard.
Next, I asked my buddy Davy. He's a pretty good golfer, so I posed the same question to him. Had he ever shot a 16?
"Na," he said, "I don't hit the ball very far, but I do hit it straight. I don't ever get into trouble, and that way I can keep big scores off my card."
Hmm, hitting it straight, a strategy I should consider.
On to Tope. Maybe he's had a 16 or worse. What did he have to say?
"Na, and if I ever shoot that number you will never know. I won't write it down on my card, and I surely won't tell anyone about it."
Come on Topester. I once had a friend who walked into a waiting room and found a familiar-looking person staring at him. He waved to the man at the exact time the man waved to him. Much to his chagrin he noticed a wall-length mirror and realized he had just waived to himself. If he can share that story, a silly little 16 score should be recounted stroke by stroke, don't you think?
My last hope for a big number was John Ira. Here's what he had to say in response to the same query: "Na, never, and I won't ever shoot that high. When I get to double digits, I holler uncle and pick up. There's no reason to punish yourself any longer."
This is the same John Ira who was struggling at a singles bowling tournament before throwing one in the pocket and 10 pins went into the pit. He picked up his ball, announced "you can't improve on perfection, boys" and exited the building. The man knows when to hold 'em.
Let's give Kevin Na some credit. All the golfers I know would pick up on a hole before hitting it 16 times. Unless Na wanted to pull a John Daly, he had to finish, and he did. He laughed about it, which you have to do if you want to keep your sanity while playing this crazy game.
Unlike the rest of us, Kevin Na will have a story to tell his grandchildren some day. "Did I ever tell you about the day when your granddaddy set a PGA record for a score on a par 4?"
Al Stephenson is The A-T golf columnist.
Read his blog at: www.advertiser-tribune.com