Teachable Moments: How Kevin Na’s decision *not* to take a drop propelled him to victory

kevin na smiles

Kevin Na secured his fifth PGA Tour victory at the Sony Open.

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Welcome to Teachable Moments, GOLF’s new weekly instruction column that will help you improve your game through the excellence and expertise of the Tour stars of the week. Class is now in session.

Kevin Na has become a real winner in recent years. After winning just once in his first 369 starts on the PGA Tour, Na has won four times over his last 55 starts, culminating with his one-shot victory at last weekend’s Sony Open.

Na was impressive all week as he swaggered around Waialae Country Club, walking in putts with his usual gusto and carding birdies with ease. Those theatrics are what we’ve come to expect from the 37-year-old as he has found his stride on Tour in recent years, and Sunday proved to be more of the same.

The steady Sunday play from Na was impressive to see, but it’s unlikely it would’ve been possible if not for a savvy par save on the opening hole. Playing in the final grouping alongside Brendan Steele and Joaquin Niemann, Na tugged his approach shot well left of the fairway. So far left that he ended up on a cart path.

Na’s drive came to rest in such a place where the drop would have left him in a spot where he couldn’t make a full swing. Being on the left side of the path, a legal drop to the left of the path would have put him in a spot where a tree would’ve blocked him from hammering a full swing. So, he decided to forego the drop and play it from the concrete instead.  

When most amateurs end up on a cart path, they usually just kick the ball off (or take a proper drop) and play the ball from there. It’s a no-brainer most of the time — there’s no use in damaging your club in a casual Saturday-morning hit and giggle. But if there are stakes at play, considering the alternative might be a smart play.

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That’s just what Na did, and the results paid off. He was able to knock his fairway metal into the greenside bunker and save par from there.

Now, this isn’t to suggest hitting off the cart path is always the correct play, or that this is an easily achievable shot. But if your drop will leave you in a worse spot than just playing it from the path, it’s a shot to consider.

If you do want to try this shot, there are a few things to consider in order to play it. Try not to play a club that has much bounce. If you do, the leading edge will not be able to get under the ball and you’ll end up skulling the shot.

Next, set the clubface square and set up with the ball in the middle of your stance. Choke up on the club a bit and put the weight on your front foot. This should help you keep the club from releasing early and blading the shot. Then, commit to the shot and let it fly.

If done correctly, you should clip the ball cleanly off the path with nothing more than a slight scuff on the bottom of your clubface.

It’s a shot the pros play with ease, but even if you aren’t a pro, it is a playable one. So next time your ball comes to rest on a path, consider if a drop is really the best option. If not, remember the tips above and let it rip.

Damage your clubs on a cart path? Head to our friends over at True Spec Golf and get fitted for a new set!

Golf.com Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for GOLF.com where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF.com, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and is the staff’s self-appointed development tour “expert.”