Na, who stayed surprisingly composed as he repeatedly hacked at his golf ball in dense undergrowth, has claimed an unwanted record for the highest ever score on a par 4 in a PGA Tour event and become famous in the process.
As every media industry follower knows, content is king. It’s just unusual for a golfer to provide so much content on a single hole. Consequently, the story has hit the sports news in numerous countries, from a sympathetic column in the New York Times to a blow by blow account in the Daily Telegraph and an expression of gratitude on the Ruthless Golf blog.
But the whole story is told most succinctly in a single photo by AP photographer Eric Gay, which perfectly captures Na’s look of horror as his second attempt at a tee shot heads into the forest.
Hapless errors by sporting stars that make them look like the rest of us can inspire emotions in the audience ranging from pity (particularly if the stakes are high) to anger (“you’ve let me down”/”don’t you care?”), glee (especially if we’re supporting the other team) and schadenfreude (if we dislike the athlete or envy them). In this case the media coverage is gleeful with more than a hint of schadenfreude.
We watch elite sports coverage because we recognise and admire the high performance of the athletes. And yet occasional howlers often attract more attention than moments of inspiration because they are unexpected and can have such an impact on results. For example, TV news coverage of football will often show the goals and any glaring misses. There is no room for competent professional play in a 30 second clip.
As occasional golfers rejoice that a full-time pro can appear so inept they should take note that Kevin Na somehow managed to pull himself together and finish the remaining nine holes of the course in three under par. It’s clear that his 16 was a freak occurrence.
The charm of this story is that nobody really got hurt: Kevin Na will live to fight another day and he can console himself with the thought that, like almost all sporting records, his will be broken one day. His fellow golfers probably dream about it every night.