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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 6, 2004

Being an only child has its advantages in golf

By Bill Kwon

The Wie family, from left, BJ, Michelle and Bo, are the most prominent family in Hawai'i youth golf.

Advertiser library photo • April 5, 2003

No sibling rivalries for some of state's top young talent

Here's a quick checklist of some of Hawai'i's outstanding young golfers:

  • Punahou School freshman phenom Michelle Wie is playing in the LPGA Tour's Michelob Ultra Open in Williamsburg, Va., this week.
  • Stephanie Kono, an eighth-grader at Punahou and currently ranked 14th nationally among junior girls by Golf Week, will be defending her Jennie K. Wilson Invitational championship next week at the Mid-Pacific Country Club.
  • University High senior Travis Toyama, who's headed to the University of Hawai'i on a scholarship, won the Interscholastic League of Honolulu individual golf title for the second straight year yesterday at Ko Olina.

What else do they have in common besides combining success on the golf course and in the classroom?

They're all the only child in the family.

The list doesn't end there.

Others include 11-year-old Cyd Okino, 12-year-old Bradley Shigezawa and 12-year-old Alika Bell, who became the youngest to compete in the Mid-Pacific Open three weeks ago.

The Kamehameha Schools sixth-grader, legally adopted by his grandfather, Alexander "Blackie" Bell, after his mother died of cancer three years ago, plays to a 4-handicap. He was a 3 last year.

Also, there is Hayley Young, a Mid-Pacific Institute seventh-grader who recently won the ILH girls intermediate title, and Jaclyn Hilea, another of Casey Nakama's junior golf program discoveries.

A former gymnast who took up golf just 3 1/2 years ago, Hilea, a Moanalua High School sophomore, can drive a golf ball nearly as long as Wie, according to Nakama, Michelle's first golf instructor at Olomana.

You can add three other high school standouts to the only child list — Lance Hirai (Iolani), Colin Imaoka (Mililani) and Kelly Nakashima (Baldwin).

Nakashima will be enrolling at the University of Idaho this fall, joining 2003 O'ahu Interscholastic Association champion Ayumi Hori of Moanalua on the women's team.

The list is lengthy enough to make one wonder if it's more than mere coincidence to the success of these only children. Is there something about being an only child that makes one a better golfer?

The best local example of an only child is Wie, whose parents, BJ and Bo, have made it a "Wie Are Family" affair.

Of course, golf's only child poster boy is Tiger Woods.

Many parents noted the more than average number of only child golf prodigies locally.

Nakama thinks being an only child can make a difference.

"Golf is such an individual sport, you practice a lot alone. I guess an only child doesn't mind being alone," Nakama said.

Soccer moms have nothing on golf moms, who spend a lot of time driving their youngsters to and from practice almost daily.

"With an only child, you can focus so much attention on them, you can devote all your time to their interest," said Esther Hilea, Jaclyn's mother.

Although she and her husband, Sam, a fire chief at the Honolulu International Airport, don't golf, it was Esther who suggested that Jaclyn pursue the sport.

"She's such a competitive person and I wanted a lifetime sport for her," said Esther, who used to drive her daughter six days a week to gymnastic practices. Now it's golf practice at Olomana five and six days a week.

"Everything is based on the child's schedule ... school, practice," adds Lynette Nakashima, Kelly's mom, who does the "business side" of the support, such as making tee times and travel arrangements to various tournaments.

Kelly's father, Brian, a retired Maui police officer who works part-time for Hawaiian Airlines, handles the "support side," driving her to practices and following her in tournaments.

"We (as parents) were all golfers once, until the kids got all the focus," said Arnold Imaoka, who's with the city planning department.

Just ask the Wies, both accomplished golfers.

Masa Toyama worked nights so he could baby-sit Travis when he was a toddler by taking him to the driving range. Watching his dad, Travis wanted to swing a golf club, too. Corinne Toyama no longer golfs, but she still owns the bragging rights by getting the first hole in one in the family.

Family support — particularly strong family ties — plays a significant role in the success of a youngster no matter what the pursuit, according to Stephen Yeh, a University of Hawai'i sociologist and a "forever" 24-handicap golfer.

Such ties are stronger and closer in the case of an only child because he or she gets more attention, Yeh said. But simply being an only child doesn't equate to success in golf.

"The kids have got to have inherent talent and some interest in golf," Yeh said. "The parent-child relationship has to be strong, and parents need to be interested in the development of the child.

"It's a combination of a number of factors, not just the single-child status."

Still, being an only child has one distinct advantage — financial.

Golf is an expensive sport and trips to Mainland tournaments to play against the best possible competition are costly. Cyrus Okino even took his young daughter to get a lesson from Butch Harmon, a noted national golf instructor.

"That's what it takes to be the best in the state and be nationally ranked," Okino said. "I can only do this because Cyd is my only child.

"There's no way I could do it if I had more than one child."

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