What you can learn from the play of the top contenders at the Sony Open

kein na and joaqiin niemann

Kevin Na and Joaquin Niemann were both impressive at last week's Sony Open.

Getty Images

Hawaii Five-O, surely, but it was most definitely Kevin Na 5.0 in Honolulu last week.

The gritty veteran notched his fifth PGA Tour victory, and his fourth in the last four seasons with a come-from-behind win at the Sony Open.

The win was vintage Na. Patient, calculated, gusty, entertaining and grinding as he overtook 54-hole leader, Brendan Steele, Chris Kirk (who had posted) and a hard-charging Joaquin Niemann.

Last year, I wrote about Steele and lessons you could learn from his play at the 2020 Sony Open. This time around I want to share a few lessons from Steele’s final group playing competitors:

Kevin Na

If you want to get the lowdown on how Na approaches the game, how he scrambles and putts so well, (and even more importantly, how he beat a case of the driver yips) go check out my “On the Mark” podcast with him.

My take from Honolulu however has nothing to do with those elements. In fact, I want to illustrate how you can hit that pressure tee shot solidly, and in play, when you need to by emulating Na.

To put it in context, he drilled a beauty down the 18th hole in the final round — a solid baby draw that led to a closing birdie to seal the title.

One thing stood about the tee shot swing out to me. — it was a subtle move that was different to every other tee shot he struck.

Na appeared to make a backswing that was a touch more disciplined, measured and complete before he unloaded into contact.

I realize it probably sounds trite but do realize this: Ensuring your backswing is completely wound-up before you unleash is beneficial in many ways.

When you are under the gun, your body is amped up and adrenaline is surging through your system. This ordinarily leads to two things — your senses being heightened, and quicker, more animated movements. 

It’s important to be recognize this when it comes to high-pressure swings. Whether you are a naturally hyped-up person like Na or not, your system is firing when under pressure. An unhurried, fully loaded backswing with a complete pivot sets you on a productive path to hitting that quality shot when you need to.

So next time, when you are feeling a little juiced and things are moving fast, emulate Na. Don’t just pay lip service to the smooth and complete backswing, set your mind to it and do it.

Joaquin Niemann

If you were paying attention on Sunday, you may have seen Niemann employ a similar pre-putt routine to one employed by both Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa. 

As he sets up over the ball, he takes his lead (left) palm and places it in the crook of his trail arm (right) elbow.

With marginal pressure, this simple move aligns the forearms, elbows, chest and shoulders and puts you in position to make an on-line, arcing putting stroke.

jon rahm celebrates making a hole-in-one
What you can learn from Jon Rahm’s skip-shot hole-in-one
By: Mark Immelman

Furthermore, if you struggle with an arc that tends up and away on the backswing and then downward and inward too much on the delivery, a trail elbow properly situated snug to the torso sets up a more productive stroke that arcs gently inward on the backswing and follow through.

Finally, situating the trail elbow close to the right side and maintaining that relationship promotes a putting stroke that is governed by the body. This arm-and-body relationship eliminates excess and damaging hand and wrist action.

Give it a try. If nothing else you will get yourself into better alignment for a solid stroke.

Golf.com Contributor

On-course announcer and analyst Mark Immelman is passionate about the game of golf. As a decorated instructor, award-winning NCAA college golf coach, and an accomplished golfer, Mark brings a robust knowledge and vast experience to his role as a television broadcaster and golf instructor. He is currently a Golf Analyst for CBS Sports HQ, and an Analyst and On-course Announcer for CBS Sports and Golf on CBS. He currently also serves as a Studio Analyst and an On-course Announcer for PGA TOUR Live  for PGA TOUR Live.

The older brother to 2008 Masters Champion, Trevor Immelman, Mark grew up in Somerset West, South Africa. After a successful amateur career in South Africa he was offered a golf scholarship to Columbus State University (Columbus , GA). He enjoyed a prolific collegiate tenure highlighted by his four-time All-America selections, two-time Academic All-America awards, and two NCAA Div. II National Championship victories. After graduation, Mark had a short season as a playing professional, but quickly turned his attention to his true passion – golf teaching.

As a golf instructor, Mark believes in cultivating ability and talent by providing comprehensive, holistic golf instruction that is easily understandable and of the highest quality to golfers of all abilities and skill levels. His passionate approach and keen knowledge of the game have led to him being a sought-after mind by leading Professional and Amateur golfers alike. Through his career he has taught and/or consulted to PGA TOUR and European Tour professionals and tournament winners such as: Larry Mize, Loren Roberts, Trevor Immelman, Scott Brown, Patton Kizzire, Louis Oosthuizen and Will Wilcox. He has been recognized as one of “Golf Digest’s Top 20 Instructors Under 40”, Golf Digest’s “Best Teachers in the State of Georgia” and Georgia Trend Magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40 – Georgia’s Best and Brightest”.

As a NCAA College Coach at Columbus State University (since 2001) Mark continues to coach the Columbus State Men’s Golf Team and his program is a perennial contender for Conference and National Titles. He is a two-time NCAA Div. II Atlantic/Southeast Region Coach of the Year, two-time Peachbelt Conference Coach of the Year, and the 2009 NCAA Div. II National Coach of the Year.

In 2019 Mark was selected as Captain and Coach of the (Arnold) Palmer Cup International Team. His team triumphed over the United States Team in the Palmer Cup Matches held at The Alotian Club outside of Little Rock, AR.

Mark’s additional broadcast duties include being a guest analyst on the CBS Sports “First Cut Podcast”. CBS Sports also uses Mark’s unique voice for audio and promotional PGA TOUR advertisements and promotional reads.

He has also served a 6-year tenure as a Play-by-Play Announcer for Sirius/XM PGA TOUR Radio.

Additionally, Mark hosts “On the Mark”, a PGA TOUR Podcast, which to date has been downloaded more than 3 million times in more than 125 countries.

He has also written golf instructional columns and articles for Golf Digest SA, Golf Digest USA and is currently penning instructional pieces for Golf Magazine. As an author, Mark has published two e-Books on golf instruction: “Scandalously SImple – The Easy Way to Accurate Golf Shots” and “Golf is a Game of Recovery”.

You can learn more about at MarkImmelman.com