Variety again provides spice at Pearl Open
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By Bill Kwon
By Bill Kwon
The PGA Tour had its season opener in Hawai'i. So did the Champions Tour. And next week it'll be the LPGA Tour's turn.
Little wonder then that the Hawai'i Pearl Open — the state's biggest professional tournament — doesn't get the attention that it deserves as the season opener in local golf.
Overshadowed by the other national tour events, the Pearl Open also conflicts with another headline-grabbing event — the Pro Bowl — in Sunday's final round at the Pearl Country Club.
It's unfortunate because the Pearl Open, which is observing its 28th year, isn't just a golf tournament. It's an Everyman's Open with pros and amateurs from Japan and the Mainland competing against the leading local golfers.
It's an early season opportunity for players to gain valuable experience, to test their game, to work on it for future tour events or just to find out how they can do at the next level.
Perhaps Exhibit A in that regard is Michelle Wie. She did all that when she played against professional men for the first time in the 2002 Pearl Open as a 12-year-old.
For Hawai'i's David Ishii and Greg Meyer, and the more than 60 Japanese pros in the 192-player field, the 54-hole event starting tomorrow is a good competitive tuneup for the Japan Tour Organization, which doesn't begin its season until April.
"It's good for some of us who play on different tours," said Meyer, 44, a four-time Pearl Open champion who finished 57th on the Japan PGA Tour money list last year to keep his playing card.
While he went East, two Pearl Open winners, Hidemichi Tanaka (2001) and Akiyoshi Ohmachi (1986), went on to play on the American PGA Tour.
Kiyoshi Murota, a two-time winner who says the Pearl Open is one of his favorite tournaments, has stayed around to play the event after earning $20,575 in the Turtle Bay Championship two weeks ago. He got a sponsor's exemption to play in his first Champions Tour event after meeting Matt Hall, Turtle Bay Resort's director of golf, during the Pearl Open.
There are others such as defending champion Will Yanagisawa of California; Joseph Summerhays, the son of Champions Tour golfer Bruce Summerhays; former University of Hawai'i standout Matt Kodama, and UH-Hilo graduate Nick Mason, who are still chasing their dreams of making it on the tour someday.
They can take to heart what Punahou School alumnus Parker McLachlin accomplished the past year, going from a top-10 finish in the 2005 Pearl Open to making it on the 2006 Nationwide Tour.
Dave Eichelberger, the only Hawai'i resident on the Champions Tour, is using this week's event to see how his game shapes up for the seniors' next two events in Florida.
"This fits in my schedule and it'll let me know how I'm playing," said Eichelberger, who leaves Sunday night for the Ace Group Classic in Naples, Fla. "I play golf for a living. So the more local tournaments we have, the better off it is for me. And this is the biggest local tournament."
This year's Pearl Open also will showcase some of Hawai'i's best junior golfers — Tadd Fujikawa, Chan Kim, T.J. Kua and Sean Maekawa — who are using the event to prepare for their upcoming high school season.
It'll be interesting to see how their game stacks up against older competition.
Throw them all in the mix — young and old, out of state and local — and "it's the toughest field we have in a local tournament," said Kevin Hayashi, the 2005 Aloha Section PGA player of the year and two-time Pearl Open winner.
"Because of that, it's the one tournament that you just want to win," said the Mauna Kea Resort teaching pro.
The Pearl Open also holds a special significance for Hayashi because he once worked at the Pearl Country Club when he turned professional in 1987.
Perhaps no one has more aloha for the Pearl Open than David Ishii.
He went from being the low amateur co-leader with Darrell Rego in the 1979 inaugural to winning the Pearl Open a record six times.
Ishii's close association with automobile titan Soichiro Honda, the late owner of the Pearl Country Club, led in part to his successful career on the Japan PGA Tour. Ishii won 14 tournaments in Japan and earned more than $8 million, putting him eighth on the all-time money list.
Winner of the PGA Tour's United Airlines Hawaiian Open in 1990, Ishii has been Pearl Country Club's director of golf for the past 15 years.