Paul Fakudiny watched as Kevin Na became a golf folk hero last week.
Fakudiny, who won the Sun City Men’s Golf Championship earlier this year, turned nostalgic as he watched Na, a PGA Tour player, transform a series of wayward shots into golf immortality at the Valero Texas Open.
“It made me think back to my first big amateur tournament, when I was 18,” Fakudiny said.
Na is a 27-year-old American who tied for second place at the 2005 FBR Open at the TPC of Scottsdale.
While he has yet to win on the PGA Tour, the Korean-born Na has carved out a solid career, tying for 27th place at last year’s U.S. Open.
However, he became the stuff of perpetual infamy last week in Texas, when he took a record 16 shots to complete the par-4 ninth hole.
Not only was Na’s every moment in the vines and brush off the ninth fairway captured during a golf broadcast, viewers also got to hear Na, who was wearing a wireless microphone.
Fakudiny’s mind raced back several decades as he recalled a similar incident during the Riverside Amateur, played at Indian Wells in California.
“The first hole required us to hit over water, probably about 180 to carry the water, which isn’t that hard of a shot,” Fakudiny said. “There were probably about 500 people watching at the first tee.”
As Fakudiny stood nearby, his playing partner walked to the tee and proceeded to top his drive into the drink.
Without hesitation, the golfer grabbed a ball out of his pocket, set it on the tee, and yes, topped the next one into the water.
“He didn’t have any more golf balls in his pocket, so at that point, he had to go to his golf bag and grab a ball,” Fakudiny said. “He only grabbed one, because you don’t want to grab more than one in that situation. It doesn’t show much confidence.”
Unfortuately, Fakudiny’s playing partner continued to hit into the water and proceeded to retrieve one ball after another from his bag following each miscue.
“He hit five into the water and finished with a 14,” Fakudiny said. “I just stood there in silence because I thought I might catch whatever he had.
“I was afraid he might explode if anyone said anything.”
Na found a way to laugh at himself during his tribulations at the ninth hole last week.
Na’s self-deprecating style and determination to finish the hole earned endearment with every high handicapper who has put a golf ball on a tee.
Chuck Eckstein of Sun City doesn’t qualify as a high handicapper.
The Sun City man won the 2010 Sun City Men’s Championship and has always been one of the better players in the Northwest Valley.
While he’s had his share of bogeys and scored the occasional dreaded others on the golf course, Eckstein has never had a Kevin Na-like experience.
He could only watch as another prominent local player, Tom Puls, struggled to persevere during the annual Sun City event.
“I forget when it was, but one year, Tom hit two balls in the water and walked away with a 7 on a par-3 hole,” Eckstein recalled. “He was devastated, but then he composed himself and ended up finishing second overall in the tournament.”
Fakudiny had his brush with disaster at last year’s Sun City tournament.
“I was 3-under-par going into the final hole of the second round,” Fakudiny said. “Then, I hit a drive in the bunker and finished with a 7.
“You get out of sync and it’s hard to get it back sometimes.”
For Fakudiny, there are a lot of similarities between golf and life.
“You’ve got good days, bad days and days that stay the same,” Fakudiny said. “But it doesn’t stay the same for long.
“You’ve got to roll with the punches.”
Rich Bolas is the managing editor of the Daily News-Sun. He may be reached at 623-876-2523 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.