The story behind how Kevin Na and longtime caddie Kenny Harms linked up
Long before linking up with Kevin Na, Kenny Harms was already a well-established, well-respected veteran caddie who looped for a who’s who of golf stars, including Hale Irwin, the all-time wins leader on the PGA Tour Champions, Hubert Green, Raymond Floyd, Gary Player and Lee Trevino, as well as Aaron Baddeley, Michelle Wie, Jan Stephenson and Emilee Klein (Harms’ ex-wife who won the 1996 Women’s British Open with Harms caddying).
During the 2008 Canadian Open, Harms had an open week from the PGA Tour Champions with Irwin and made the trip north of the border to visit and hang out with fellow longtime caddie, Steve Hulka.
Na, in his fourth season on Tour, was looking for a caddie that week. His regular bagman wasn’t able to make the trip because his grandmother was sick.
Like many before him — and many since — Na reached out to Hulka to ask if he knew of any caddies looking for a loop that week.
“He said, ‘My friend from the Champions Tour, he caddies for Hale Irwin. He’s here hanging out this week,'” Na recalls Hulka telling him. “‘He’s here to see me. We’re catching up and he’s available if you want.’ I said, ‘Yeah, um, can you introduce me to Kenny?’ This guy worked for Hale Irwin.”
Right from the jump, Na was enthusiastic about meeting Harms, the man who had helped steer Irwin to a bunch of wins on the 50-and-over circuit.
“So, I got his number. I was actually at Niagara Falls – fancy place,” said Na, who along with Harms, were recent guests on The Caddie Network’s ‘Under the Strap’ podcast. “I remember I was sightseeing, calling him and saying, ‘Hey, Kenny. My name is Kevin and I need a caddie this week. Are you available?’ He said, ‘Yeah. What time do you want to meet tomorrow?’
“I said, ‘9 o’clock tomorrow at the clubhouse.’ So, that’s how we met.”
And it was kismet.
“The first week on the bag, we top 10’d,” Na said. “I think it was like a tie for eighth, I can’t remember (it was a T8). We played great. I was in contention, top-10 finish, which was huge for me that year. And I remember my father was there with me that week. He had some friends in Canada and he was there hanging out. And he says, ‘Kevin – you need to hire this guy.’”
It’s not that Na didn’t want to hire Harms. But how was this 25-year-old on the PGA Tour going to pull Harms away from Irwin?
“So, he [Na’s dad] said, ‘Well, you’ve got nothing to lose. Ask him. Ask him if he wants to caddie for you.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll give it a shot. Why?’
“My dad said, ‘He’s a great caddie,’” Na said. “From outside the ropes, he saw him work and he said, ‘He’s always right there. When he’s raking the bunker, he’s always got one eye on you seeing if you need a read.’ He liked the fact that Kenny never forecaddied. He was always right there, and he was focused. He really liked how Kenny worked, so I asked Kenny, ‘Hey, any chance you can caddie for me?’”
Harms told Na that he’d work some of the weeks he had off with Irwin for the rest of 2008 and see how it went.
“So, that year I think he caddied for me in five or six tournaments,” Na said. “I think it was six – throughout the rest of the year – in the open weeks that he had. And then at the end of the year I asked him, ‘Hey, do you think you can come work for me next year?’ He said, ‘We’ll talk.’”
And that’s what they did — going into some serious negotiations. Well, not that serious, as Na was pretty much agreeable to everything Harms wanted almost to a fault.
“He negotiated pretty well,” Na said. “Some of the numbers I look back on now and I go, ‘Man, I should have negotiated better!’ But at the time, I was like, ‘Yeah. Sure, sure, sure.’ I didn’t know it was going to come back and bite me in the ass!”
Whatever the deal was has worked out beautifully for both parties. Na’s now won four times on the PGA Tour with Harms on the bag, including three victories between July 2018 and October 2019.
“I always joke that Kenny has caddied for three Hall of Famers – Hubert Green, Hale Irwin, Jan Stephenson,” Na said. “And then a chump, which is me. But I always say that I did make him the most money, for sure.”
Harms loves working for Na. It’s been 11 years now and the two are as close as ever.
“From going to work for him full-time, he’s always treated me like part of the family,” Harms said. “And I’ve treated him like he’s part of my family. I would call it more of a brother-ship than a big-brother/little-brother, because we both are very strong-minded people. That’s one of the things that helps in the relationship that gives both of us confidence in one another.”
Harms said that early on — and to this day — he and Na have spent tons off time together even off the course.
“Early on, it was me, Kevin and Moto (his agent),” Harms said. “And we went literally everywhere together. We went to the gym together, we went to dinner together, we drove back and forth together. We stayed in the same hotels. For about 3 ½ years, really it was just the three of us going everywhere together. When you’re spending that much time with somebody, you seriously have to like them. His family has been really just amazing. I can’t put into words the respect that we have for each other and how much I love his family and the trust that they have in me around their daughter and their son now and, it’s like I’m always looking after them. It’s part of what I do. I’ve been that way my whole life with the people that I care about. It’s amazing to me. I never had a little brother – and I’m not saying he’s like a little brother – but he is a brother. The relationship is special and there’s… we confide in one another. There’s stuff that we know about each other that we’ll probably take to our grave.”
And that might be the reason they never leave one another, Na joked.
“Too much dirt,” Na laughed. “How do you keep a relationship for 11 years? We have so much dirt on each other that we can’t get rid of each other.”
There have been a number of occasions caught on camera of Harms and Na — two ultra competitive guys — seemingly bickering with one another on the course while discussing a shot. Like this:
But, Na insists, fans shouldn’t read too deeply into that stuff.
“People might think we’re fighting, but we’re not,” Na said. “We argue, but I have a lot of respect for Kenny. He does a great job. He speaks up when he needs to. The respect is mutual. I think because of that respect, our relationship on the golf course – we don’t take anything personal. He can try to take a club away from me. He can say, ‘You can’t,’ do something, but I don’t take it personal. I really listen to what he’s got to say. But the final call is me. I’m not the one to blame something on Kenny. I’m going to tell him honestly if I mishit a shot, I’m going to be like, ‘Kenny, that was a half a groove low,’ or, ‘I chunked that a little bit.’ I’m pretty honest about how I hit the shot.”
We’ll let the caddie have the final word.
“There’s a trust that we have in one another and that’s a huge part of the relationship,” Harms said. “And it’s a huge part of the relationship on the golf course as well. He knows that I have his back. I am not going to tell him something on the golf course that I don’t firmly believe in is the right decision. He makes the ultimate decision, but I’ve got to give him that input. Let’s face it: golf tournaments are won and lost – top 10s – you just don’t know what one little decision can turn into for the rest of the year. How many guys do you see missing the first playoff event because of one bad decision in the beginning of the year or the middle of the year?
“That’s why I have so much respect for Kevin,” Harms added. “He is such a grinder. He never gives up. Literally, I think there was only one tournament that he did it in in the 11 years that I’ve worked for him. And he said to me the next day, ‘I will never allow that to happen again.’ And he hasn’t. It’s a special relationship. We’re both very blessed.”