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Kevin Na comes to defense of suspended Korean golfer Bio Kim

Happy Gilmore would have found it humorous.

The Korean Tour, not so much.

Make that not at all.

When a cellphone camera clicked during Bio Kim’s backswing last week, the Korean tour’s leading money winner turned to the gallery and made an obscene gesture.

He went on to win the tournament. Then he was suspended.

For three years.

To some, the punishment seemed cruel and unusual.

Kevin Na, the 2011 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open champion who was born in Seoul before moving to California as a youngster and then to Southern Highlands in Las Vegas, immediately came to Kim’s defense.

“What he did was wrong,” said Na, a sort of surrogate big brother to Kim when the two played on the PGA Tour together. “Should he be fined? Yes. (But) three years is ridiculous. You’re taking a man’s job for three years.”

(By comparison, when LPGA player Lori Garbacz told an ESPN cameraman “to get that bleeping camera out of my face” in 1985, she was fined $3,500. Allowing for inflation, her penalty for dropping the F-bomb on live TV would be $8,345.29 — a lot less than not passing Go on the PGA Monopoly board for three years.)

“He was unprofessional, and there should be consequences for it,” Na said of his former understudy. “The spectator was disrespecting the game and the player at the same time.”

There was a bit of additional disrespect on the ninth tee Thursday at TPC Summerlin when a cellphone shutter clicked when Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau and Na were waiting to tee off. The caddies — Na’s bag man, Kevin Harms, was wearing a “Free Bio Kim” cap — sharply admonished the offender.

On Friday, it happened again when Mickelson was in his backswing. He stepped away before regrouping and hitting his ball into a bunker.

Cellphones were not allowed at the Shriners Open until a few years ago, when the tour changed its policy regarding mobile devices.

“In this day and age, we were all starting to lose fans because they couldn’t get away from their phones and work,” Shriners Open tournament director Patrick Lindsey said.

But I’ll bet if you ask Bio Kim, he would be all in for a return to tin cans and a ball of string.

Around the fringe

— Favorite media guide fact about Kevin Na: Roughly six months before he would win his first tour event at the Shriners Open, he made a 16 on the ninth hole at the Valero Texas Open in April 2011 — the worst par 4 score recorded since the PGA began tracking hole-by-hole tallies in 1983.

The following year, Na hung the shirt he wore on that day on a tree branch in the woods where he hit his ball as a sacrifice to the golfing gods.

— He has been UNLV’s golf coach almost since persimmon drivers were in vogue, but Dwaine Knight said he feels more like a track star on Shriners Open weekend when he’s chasing Rebels around the fairways and greens. This weekend, there were six — Adam Scott, Ryan Moore, Charley Hoffman, Kurt Kitayama, John Oda and current team member Jack Trent — on which to keep tabs.

“I get here early and figure out who I’m going to follow first and how to follow back at the end of the day and maybe catch the guys that are chasing the leaderboard,” Knight said as he checked tee times after Scott made the turn on No. 9 Friday. “It’s a long day, but it’s all pleasure.”

The affable Rebels coach was wearing a white UNLV golf cap and a red UNLV golf shirt. And a comfortable pair of sneakers.

— After the first two rounds of the Shriners Open, ticket sales were up 44 percent over last year thanks mainly to the presence of Mickelson, who at 49 remains one of the game’s biggest draws.

Mickelson is playing TPC Summerlin for the first time since 2005, and Lindsey said he hasn’t given up on the idea of enticing Tiger Woods to return to the site of his first Tour victory.

“Man, that’d be somethin’, right?” Lindsey asked rhetorically. “The 25th anniversary of his first tour win will be in 2021, and we’ll make a pitch to him.”

19th hole

Reporter in the media center: “Why do you suppose all these people still insist on following Phil Mickelson around the golf course when all these young guys who hit the ball from here to St. Andrews are playing, too?”

Second reporter: “Who would you rather watch play center field for the ’73 Mets, Willie Mays or Don Hahn?”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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