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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 18, 2001

'Young guns' to come out firing in Jennie K.

Advertiser Staff

Hawai'i's best, brightest and — in a break from tradition — youngest golfers tee off today in the first round of the Jennie K. Wilson Women's Invitational, at Mid-Pacific Country Club.

The first of the three major women's events is allowing players younger than 16 to enter this year, if they carry a single-digit handicap. Punahou students Stephanie Kono and Michelle Wie, at age 11, qualified. They were part of O'ahu's exceptionally young national public links team last summer.

Their participation makes Hawai'i's hottest golfer — Kaua'i High senior Rachel Kyono — look like a seasoned veteran. Kyono won the state high school girls' championship by eight shots last weekend. She finished second to Bobbi Kokx at last year's Jennie K. and won last summer's Hawai'i State Women's Golf Association State Stroke Play Championship, at Mid-Pacific.

Kokx, now teaching at Kihei Elementary, is in Lanikai to defend her title. She also won while attending the University of Hawai'i in 1984, then turned pro, coached the Wahine and regained her amateur status before last year's Jennie K. She celebrated by shooting the fourth-best score in the tournament's 50-year history.

The only other former champion entered is Bev Kim, who won in 1981. Two others — Kathy Cho (1996) and Anna Umemura (1995, '97 and '98) — are not playing. Cho competed in the NCAA Regionals for the University of Oregon last week, and Umemura told the committee her senior year at Tennessee took too much out of her. She is a semester short of graduation.

"Tell the 'young guns' they'll get a crack at the 'old lady' later," Umemura wrote. "My, my, how quickly things change."

The Jennie K. was the state's first 54-hole medal play event for amateur women when it started in 1950. It is named after the late Jennie Kapahu Wilson, wife of Honolulu Mayor John H. Wilson.

"Aunty Jennie" was one of King Kalakaua's seven court dancers, but never a golfer. She donated the monkeypod calabash that is the perpetual trophy and attended every tournament banquet until her death in 1962, at age 90. Her portrait is always draped in lei during the Jennie K. week.

Golfers from the Mainland, Taiwan, Samoa, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have played here in the past. Jackie Pung, Tura Nagatoshi, Lori (Castillo) Planos, Cindy Flom and Pam Kometani are among the 19 Jennie K. champions who have gone on to turn pro.

Golfers tee off from 7:30 each morning, with the leaders going out at approximately 9:30 a.m. Sunday.