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June 12, 2014

Kevin Na


THE MODERATOR: Welcome to the 2014 U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club. Very happy to have with us this afternoon Kevin Na, who shot a first round 2-under 68 and is currently tied for the clubhouse lead. Kevin, can you talk about the conditions this morning and how you found play on No. 2, please.

KEVIN NA: The golf course was a lot softer than I was expecting it. I think they watered it a little bit. With the overcast this morning, it was a little soft and the greens were not as quick as I expected. You think that's why I was able to shoot a couple under. I'm not saying it was playing easy, it wasn't playing as difficult as I was expecting it, but I know for sure that Friday, Saturday, Sunday, it's going to play harder and harder. And by Sunday, I know even par's going to be a good score.

THE MODERATOR: Can you walk us through your round today. You had an eagle, three birdies, three bogeys. Walk us through those.

KEVIN NA: I hit it really well all day. I started off 10, hit a lot of fairways. I think I hit every fairway except 1. I want to say I hit 14 or 15 greens. I just made a lot of pars. It was a nice birdie on 13. The only mistake I feel like I made out there was 14. I had about a .22-footer where I got a little too aggressive on a downhill and I 3-putted. That eagle on 5 was definitely the turning point of my round, to get it 2-under par. I hit a good drive, good 3-wood, just a little long right and it was a simple chip. But at the same time, you hit that thing a little too firm over the hill, it can go off the green. Obviously, it's not a thought you want to have in your mind, but it was definitely in the back of my head. I hit a great chip, just clipped it perfect and it was nice to see that fall in for an eagle.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks. Open it up to questions.

Q. Typically the U.S. Open is known for its rough. A little different this year. Are you still finding the importance of finding the fairway even though you don't maybe have that typical three, four-inch rough that we normally have?
KEVIN NA: Yes. There's still a premium on hitting the fairways, because you can control the spin out of the fairway. Out of the shrubs, you never know what you're going to get until you get there. You can have a good lie, get real lucky, or you could be dead and you're chipping out. But I do think it's playing a little easier without the rough. I do want to say that it's playing easier. But I think this is great. This is the first U.S. Open I've seen with no rough. It tests the player on different kinds of shots. You can be -- you can use your imagination more. You're not just chipping out. So I think you'll see a lot more people being aggressive out of the -- I don't want to say it's not rough, it's the shrub, and you see more birdies out of there and also you see double bogeys trying to -- because you're being too aggressive out of the shrubs. So I think it makes it a lot more interesting.

Q. As you mentioned, there's still a lot of golf left to play, you've obviously got to be very happy with how you played today, you go off late tomorrow. Is it going to be difficult, do you think, to sort of -- that wait in between now and when you go off tomorrow?
KEVIN NA: I've been playing very well this year. I just came off a runner-up. I lost in a playoff at the Memorial. I'm having a great year, obviously, coming back from a back injury. But if I just keep playing my game, I think I'll have a good chance on Sunday. Obviously, tomorrow is me being in the late afternoon, the course is definitely going to play a lot different. The course will play shorter, but the greens are going to be a lot more difficult to hit. But it's the same for everyone, you get a morning time and an afternoon time. So we'll see.

Q. That playoff at the Memorial, I guess, you know, got you in here, but you had to wait until Monday to find out. Did you do any preparing mentally or anything before Monday?
KEVIN NA: No, I slept great. I knew I was in the U.S. Open. I knew the World Ranking, I know how that system works, I know how the points work. It's not that hard, once you know the system. The website tells you what the projected points are for what the finish is. You have add that up, divide it by your divisor, boom, you get your average. I knew I was going to be somewhere around 40, and I was exactly 40 on Monday. It wasn't like whether I was going to be 59 or 58, so I was going to be well inside the number. So it was nice. It was disappointing that I lost in a playoff, but it was nice to get myself in the U.S. Open.

THE MODERATOR: Had you played at Pinehurst before?

KEVIN NA: No, I have not. I've only heard great things about it. Obviously I saw two Open Championships being held here, I watched it on TV and I remember watching Payne when I was a little kid watching that on TV. A lot of history here. I'm very, very pleased to be here.

Q. At Memorial, you were in the booth and were talking there and you said, on 18, that you had stepped away from a shot and you wished you hadn't. Can you talk about how you have changed your procedure of play or pace of play, what has gone into that?
KEVIN NA: Well, it's not that I changed my pace of play, I'll make it short. I couldn't talk the club back. So I fixed that. Done. But on 18, at Memorial, I mean there's a lot on the line, obviously the wind is going hard right-to-left, I wasn't committed, so I backed off. And players have to be committed to a shot. Unfortunately, when I was over the ball, and took it back, one of those cotton things flew over my ball. I lost focus and I chunked it a little bit. But it was a great up-and-down to give myself a chance. And Mr. Nicklaus said, after I got down in the booth, he said, "Kevin, don't go anywhere, you still got a chance." And sure enough, he was right.

Q. I think you're No. 2 in scrambling on TOUR this year. Obviously, Pinehurst, with the reputation and emphasis on short game, was this, would you say, one of the most excited you've been heading into a Major?
KEVIN NA: Yes. In the beginning of the year, I mean obviously I didn't play any golf last year. I was out most of the year. I knew that the U.S. Open's going to be at Pinehurst and I heard about no rough and about the collection areas and how people told me, this is a great golf course for you. And I heard it over and over. My caddie came and he said, "We're going to the U.S. Open no matter what and we're going to have a chance there." If there was any Major that I really wanted to play this year, obviously because I was so far down in the World Ranking, it was the U.S. Open. Because I felt like the course setup was going to be, would suit very well for me. Here I am. Obviously I got off to a good start, I got three more days to play, but it's a lot of fun. It's exciting to be here.

THE MODERATOR: How critical is it, particularly at a U.S. Open, to get off to that really good start?

KEVIN NA: Very important. Obviously, I know the golf course is going to get harder and harder, and I think today's setup, it might be the easiest setup we see all week. Actually I'm positive it's going to be the easiest we have seen all week. And it's going to get harder and harder. So you got to take advantage of that first, early morning tee time and I was able to do that.

Q. Talk a little bit more about what things in your game that are suited to the way the course is set up now and --
KEVIN NA: I couldn't hear you.

Q. You and your caddie talked about how the course would set up well for you this year. Can you go through more elements of that, why that would be?
KEVIN NA: No. 1, chipping. All the collection areas, you can't -- everyone is going to miss a lot of greens. You have to be able to get up-and-down from that difficult, tight collection area. I feel like that's one of my strengths of the game, is my chipping. Obviously, if everyone's missing greens and you have to get up-and-down, I feel like I've got an advantage. And Phil said the same thing. He's got one of the greatest short games. And he's got an advantage here too. This year I've been healthy most of my year, still battling a little bit of back problem, but I'm driving the ball well, hitting the ball well, and I've had many good years on TOUR. And last year was the only year that I really struggled, because I actually didn't play. But it's nice to be back and getting back in Majors, being back in the Top-50 in the world. I think that I got back in the Top-50 in the world quicker than I expected.

Q. I think you said at the beginning, you hit 13 of 14 greens?
KEVIN NA: 14 or 15. I don't know. I want to say 14.

Q. So my question is, at the end of the week when we look at this, is it going to be the guy who chipped better or the guy who hit more greens in regulation so he didn't have to chip that often?
KEVIN NA: Well, it's nice when you don't have to chip. But you can't hit 18 greens out here. You can't. It's just not possible. But you have to do both well. You can't hit seven greens and expect to win this golf tournament. You have to hit, I want to say, 12, 13 greens around. You were able to do that out there today with somewhat receptive greens, but is that going to be possible on Sunday? I don't know. Is 10 green going on a Sunday round going to be a good ball striking day? Maybe. When you get six or five or six up-and-downs, make a few birdies, shoot even par. You shoot even par at a U.S. Open, last time I checked it was pretty good.

Q. There was some talk about a lot of the rain missing out here on the course, overnight yesterday or whatnot. Is that an advantage for you guys as far as how the greens are playing for you this morning, with it being dryer, or would you guys have preferred some of the rain?
KEVIN NA: We prefer rain. With no lightning, obviously. A little bit of rain obviously makes a golf course so much more playable. With no rain, and sunshine and a little breeze, I mean it becomes stressful out there for the players. I'm sure it's a lot more fun to watch, balls bouncing off the greens, but for us it becomes a lot more difficult. Either way, it's going to play difficult, regardless.

THE MODERATOR: Kevin, thanks so much for joining us today and congratulations on a very well played first round.

KEVIN NA: Thank you.

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