APLES, FLORIDA – This week, Jason Kokrak urged Kevin Na to bring his blazing putter.
Na accomplished exactly that, birdieing six of the next seven holes (the other was a chip-in on No. 9) while Kokrak birdied the final three holes to win the QBE Shootout by a shot on Sunday at Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort.
“I began making putts and hitting some pretty beautiful shots in there, and it was just one after another after another,” Na explained. “It was a tremendous chip-in on nine.” That was a difficult hole to birdie, and for me to chip it in, I felt like we really gained one there.”
“He told me on nine that if he missed the green, he was going to hoop it, and he sure did, it was right in the middle,” Kokrak said of Na’s chip-in. “Watching that was pretty spectacular, and it spurred me to get the train rolling a little bit.” “I made a few for myself.”
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In the better-ball format, Marc Leishman and Jason Day started the final round with a three-stroke lead and extended it to four early on, but both of their putters went cold, and they finished third, two shots back.
Billy Horschel and partner Sam Burns shot a birdie on the par-4 18th, putting them in second place at 32-under, one behind Kokrak and Na, whose 33-under total was one off the tournament record.
Harris English and Matt Kuchar, the defending champions who tied the tournament record with a nine-shot victory last year, came within a stroke of tying it with English’s eagle on No. 17, but the three-time winners couldn’t match it on No. 18.
They did, however, get a front-row seat to Na’s putting demonstration.
Kuchar commented, “That was impressive stuff.” “As a competitor, I wanted to say something to see if I could jinx it, but I figured we’d see how far we could take it.” It was incredible to win seven games in a row. They make an excellent team. Jason really stepped it up as Kevin completed with seven and he came on as hard as he could. That was a formidable team.”
When you get him on the green, he can make a 50-foot putt look like a five-foot putt, according to Horschel. “He can roll that rock like no one else.”
On No. 18, however, it was Kokrak who made the massive putt. Following Na’s miss from 10 feet on No. 18, he rolled in an 8-footer.
“I intended to make him the center of attention,” Na laughed. “… That was incredible when he did it. When he was placing, I was honestly a little nervous.”
“I’m not known for my putting,” Kokrak confessed. “… I was hoping he’d just stroll it in and relieve some of the pressure, but he did enough, and he definitely pulled his own weight.”
To force a playoff, Leishman/Day and Horschel/Burns needed to hole out from the 18th fairway, but only Burns came close, hitting it down to a few feet.
After a 4-under 68, LPGA standout Lexi Thompson and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson tied for ninth place.
Na started his streak with birdies on Nos. 7 and 8, then holed out from the right side of the green for birdie on No. 9. Four more Na birdies followed on the back nine until Kokrak, who started the run with a birdie on No. 6, ended it with a birdie on No. 14. Kokrak made a two-putt birdie on the par-5 17th after hitting it within a few feet on the par-3 16th.
“I said, ‘Hey, when are you going to show up?’ on the back nine.” “Na” stated. “He said, ‘I’ll be there when you truly need me,’ and he came through when I really needed him.”
Kokrak was hitting them all week while Na was making bombs on the green.
“I just told him to bring the explosives, and he did,” Na explained. “It was entertaining to watch him detonate those bombs.” It’s fun to play scramble and pick up the ball and walk 30 yards before dropping it. We had a great time together.
“There were holes or moments where we weren’t playing very well, but we never felt down about it; we just kind of said, don’t — you know, if one of us said, ah, sorry, no big deal, you know?” We were having a great time, and that was the key to our success.”
In 2021, Na won the Sony Open in Hawaii in January, and Kokrak won two times on the Tour, the first at the Charles Schwab Challenge in May and the second at the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open in November.
Na’s success was bittersweet because two of her friends had lately died. One was Kenny Lee, who Na described as a Las Vegas acquaintance, and the other was Dusty Smith, who had worked as a caddie for Na as a kid. He passed away from a heart attack.
During an interview on the 18th green, Na stated, “I mean, I’ve never cried that much in the last month.” “… I’d want to express my gratitude to them both, since I believe this would not have been possible without them.”