Kevin Na beat Patrick Cantlay in a playoff last week to win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas, marking his fourth career win on the PGA Tour.
Naturally, the win sparked a touching embrace with his wife and daughter on the final green.
The 36-year-old then gave an emotional, teary-eyed interview in Korean from the final green, though didn’t elaborate about what his Korean message actually was in the days that followed.
“I just said it took a lot of hard work,” Na said about the Korean message in his post-round media conference. “I thanked the fans for believing in me, cheering for me. Just wanted to send a message back home.”
The South Korean native’s message, it turned out, was a bit more extensive than that.
“To my Korean fans, for always supporting and believing in me despite all these false rumors, I want to say thank you,” Na said in Korean, via the Golf Channel. “No matter what anyone said about me, I have been very happy. So as I kept my mouth shut, I feel like I showed you my feelings with my clubs today. Even as I bit my tongue, I have gotten to this point. Thank you to my fans again. I will see you soon at the CJ Cup.”
A broken engagement
After initially declining to explain the meaning behind his message, Na finally opened up to Golf.com.
It had to do with a broken engagement with a South Korean woman from 2013 and 2014, a story that still follows him years later.
“I haven’t wanted to talk about all of this but it’s been bothering me for quite some time,” Na said, via Golf.com. “There have been too many rumors and false statements and it’s been very hurtful. Now I have a family and I feel I need to protect them and my name.”
Na and his ex-fiancé met in 2013 through a matchmaker and were engaged by the end of the year. The pair planned to be wed the following November, though called it off in October 2014 — marking a significant move in Korean culture.
Na was in Seoul that same month competing in the Korean Open, so the two families agreed to meet in what he expected to be a “respectful way to formally end the engagement and gain closure.” Per the report, however, that’s not what happened.
His ex-fiancé’s dad apparently threatened him, trying to save the marriage.
“Her dad told me, ‘If you don’t change your mind and marry my daughter, I’m coming after you,’” Na said, via Golf.com.
Their relationship, however, wasn’t salvaged. Then, just days later, his ex-fiancé’s mother was waiting outside of the Korean Open with a sign reading: “American Golfer Na! Give back my daughter's life as cleanly as you sent her stuff back.”
Lawsuits were then filed against him, which he eventually countered and won years later.
Why is this being brought up now?
Na and his wife, Julianne, married in 2015 and now have two children — one of which was born earlier this year. His golf career has improved significantly, too. He’s won three times in each of the past PGA Tour seasons, breaking a seven-year dry spell, and is now No. 24 in the World Golf Rankings.
Yet his recent wins, Na said, haven’t gone over well in Korea. He and his wife were even due to be on a Korean reality show that featured their home, though it was canceled due to bad publicity.
“Every time I win the old stories and details get dragged up again,” Na said, via Golf.com. “It feels like the media has been turned against me. They treat me like a foreigner.”
Now, Na said, he’s over it.
“For five years I had stayed silent,” Na said, via Golf.com. “The advice I was always given was just to play good golf and not focus on the nonsense and that’s what I did. But enough is enough.
“I hadn’t planned to say anything [in Las Vegas], but I couldn’t help it. I’m sorry I rambled on so long and confused all the viewers in the U.S.”
Na is now gearing up for the CJ Cup in Seoul next week. While he’s excited for the Tour’s stop in his hime country, Na said he’s still a bit nervous.
He isn’t, though, going to let any off-course distractions get to him.
“I love Korea and the fans over here,” Na said, via Golf.com. “I’m playing the best golf in my life. This should be a great week. But we’ll see how it goes. I just want the fans to get to know the real me.
“In some ways, I feel like I’ve been forced to hide. I’m not doing that anymore.”
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