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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 16, 2002

First prep repeat champ never had pro ambition

By Bill Kwon

Ralden Chang, with a picture of himself holding the Junior World Championship trophy in the 1970s.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Back-to-back victories by Waiakea High School senior Jarett Hamamoto in the David Ishii Foundation State Boys Golf Championship yesterday at the Leilehua Golf Course brought back memories of Ralden Chang, the teen sensation of his time more than 20 years ago.

Then a junior at Campbell High, Chang won the individual title at the Ala Wai Golf Course in 1981 when the state tournament was last held on O'ahu.

He repeated as champion the following year at Kaluako'i Golf Course on Moloka'i to become the state tournament's first back-to-back winner.

Hamamoto, who will attend the Air Force Academy, now joins Chang, Waiakea's Troy Tamiya (1986-87) and Iolani's Kalani Kia'aina (1993-94) as the only repeat winners in the state tournament's 37-year history.

(Tamiya, who graduated from the University of Oregon, is general manager of the Hilo Municipal Course, while Kia'aina, a 1998 graduate of Rice University, is an assistant pro at the Houston Country Club).

Chang, the poster boy of Hawai'i's junior golf program for a decade beginning in 1977, was the one who got it all started.

Winning back-to-back titles had been nothing new for Chang. He did it at the Junior World Championships in San Diego, becoming the first to win the boys 13-14 division in successive years.

After being the first 13-year-old to win that age-group title in 1977, Chang became its first repeat champion the following year. A youngster named Tiger Woods did it years later.

So, whatever happened to Ralden Chang?

This was a guy who had won three Francis Brown Four-Ball tournaments with three different partners (David Baker, when they were both 15; Daryl Inaba and Guy Yamamoto) during the time the event was a big deal among local amateurs.

Unlike most of his contemporaries — including Inaba, Yamamoto, Baker, Beau Yokomoto, Don Hurter, Mitchell Murata and Roy Adams — Chang has stopped playing competitive golf, almost cold turkey.

He hasn't played in a tournament since the Maui Open several years ago.

"I didn't even break 80," Chang said about that outing.

His last victory came in the 1992 Barbers Point Invitational, which he won twice.

Chang, now 38, doesn't miss golf.

"I'll play recreational golf, a scramble tournament once in a while, but that's it," said Chang, who started working with the city's parks and recreation department a little more than a year ago.

He might have been out of sight, but not out of touch with golf. More of a fan these days, Chang had been the golf course superintendent at the New 'Ewa Beach Golf Club for 3 1/2 years. He also spent two years on the maintenance crew at the still-unopened Royal Kunia Country Club and five years at the Sheraton Makaha Resort before its ownership change.

"I've always wanted to be a golf course superintendent and I started from the ground up," said Chang, who graduated from University of Hawai'i-Hilo in 1986 with a degree in agriculture.

It was with that idea in mind that Chang stopped playing competitive golf.

"Work took too much time from practice, and I never had an ambition to be a pro anyway," Chang said. "I was pretty much influenced by Guinea Kop, who taught me the finer parts of the game. He told me never to rely on golf as my only source of income."

Chang knew that playing professional golf was a not a realistic goal.

Still, he dreams of playing tournament golf again, particularly because his new job gives him the weekends off.

"I know it'll be rough to get back into it. It'll mean I'll have to practice a lot. But I won't play until I feel I'm ready."

Nobody had worked harder at the game than Chang, who was given his first set of clubs when he was 8 by his father, Bill, who died two years ago.

"He was my biggest influence," Chang said of his father.

When Chang began taking lessons from Ted Murata, he would take the bus from his 'Ewa Beach home and transfer at Alakea Street to another one bound for Kane'ohe every Saturday during the summer. He would spend the night with the Murata family and get a ride home with his dad the next morning.

Murata said he never saw a youngster more dedicated to the game than Chang.

The dedication paid off with two titles at the Junior World Championships. In 1978, the dividends proved even greater. By finishing fourth in the PGA Junior Nationals, Chang was chosen to play on the U.S. team that defeated the British in Manchester, England. One of his teammates was Billy Andrade, now on the PGA Tour.

"That's my greatest thrill in golf," said Chang, who sank a 10-foot putt for par on the final hole to halve his match, enabling the Americans to hold on for a half-point victory. An added treat was getting to play the Old Course at St. Andrews afterward.

A homebody, Chang turned down scholarships from Mainland colleges to attend the University of Hawai'i. Chang played No. 1 for the Rainbows for two years before transferring to UH-Hilo. In his senior year, he led the Vulcans to the NAIA District championship, besides earning All-Academic honors with a 3.6 grade-point average.

Trophies might rust and collect dust. But nothing, even the passing of time, can diminish Chang's many memorable moments.

Bill Kwon can be reached at bkwon@aloha.net.