Sunday, January 14, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 14, 2001

Open and shut case for Ishii

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

You can see David Ishii in ads for the Johnny Bellinger Shoot-Out that is part of the Sony Open in Hawaii.

But whether you’ll be able to actually see him play in either of those events this week is up in the air.

Unfortunately, Hawaii’s most decorated golfer could be on the spectator side of the ropes this week if he doesn’t earn a qualifying spot tomorrow at Pearl Country Club.

He can’t play in the Shoot-Out unless he is officially in the tournament and, sans an exemption, he won’t be in the tournament unless he clinches one of the four qualifying berths.

The Sony without Ishii would be a shame because if there is anybody who deserves an exempted spot in Oahu’s most prestigious golf event, it is Ishii. If there is anybody whose legacy says he should have his path into Waialae eased, it is the soft-spoken Kauai native.

For more than 15 years, a period that spans the late Hawaiian Open and its successor, the Sony, Ishii has been more a fixture at Waialae than the Jumbotron.

His victory there in 1990, holding off Paul Azinger and Craig Stadler to win the 25th anniversary Hawaiian Open, was the stirring stuff of local legend. And a lot more.

With it, the man the gallery hailed as "Our David" earned a place in golfing lore alongside late Ted Makalena (1966) as the only locally born and bred golfers to win a Hawaiian Open.

It is a designation, along with his easygoing humility and game, that has made Ishii a gallery favorite for years. It has made him an inspiration not only to duffers but legions of junior golfers.

His popularity extends not only among local fans but also to tourists from Japan who are familiar with him as the fifth all-time money winner on the Japan PGA Tour.

Yet, the exemptions have been spent elsewhere. To Kiichiro Fukabori of the Japan PGA Tour, for instance.

And that’s too bad because Ishii’s many heartfelt contributions to Hawaii golf are more than pin deep. The record $34,100 he has amassed through 13 Bellinger Shoot-Outs — three of which he has won — have gone to support the junior golf program. And he annually underwrites the Hawaii High School Athletic Association golf championships.

The hope is that since tomorrow’s qualifying is at Pearl, where he is director of golf, Ishii will earn one of the coveted berths in this week’s tournament.

That would be fitting not only for his sake, but for Hawaii golf for which he has come to represent as its most successful and recognizable player.

But Ishii’s status is such that it shouldn’t even have to come down to that. Ishii, in both play and in deed, has done much for golf in Hawaii.

Recognizing that through an exemption that would allow him to play here in the future wouldn’t be out of line at all.

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