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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 1, 2006

Rough day for young trio at U.S. Open

 •  Wie one shot off U.S. Women's Open lead

By Christopher Parish
Special to The Advertiser

Ayaka Kaneko got to practice next to her idol, Annika Sorenstam.

Associated Press photos

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Stephanie Kono was encouraged by her putting performance.

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Kimberly Kim got to go shopping after her luggage failed to arrive.

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NEWPORT, R.I. Three of Hawai'i's finest amateurs had less than a fine day in the first round of the U.S. Women's Open Championships yesterday at the Newport Country Club.

After an evening of thunderstorms, Kimberly Kim, Stephanie Kono and Ayaka Kaneko fought puddles, bunkers and thick rough.

What they received in return was a good experience, if not good scores.

Kim finished with the best round of the three with a 6-over-par 77. Kaneko finished at 9-over 80 and Kono 11-over 82. (Michelle Wie, Hawai'i's other golfer in the tournament, shot 1-under and is one shot out of first place.)

After starting her round at 1-under through two holes, giving her a very brief share of the lead, Kim double-bogeyed the third hole to erase her momentum.

She parred her next four holes before another double-bogey on the eighth and bogeys on the ninth and 10th. She birdied the par-4 11th, but two more bogeys on the 14th and the 16th were the final blemishes on the round, which left her tied for 92nd overall and eighth among amateurs.

It was a strong round, considering the circumstances.

Kim's luggage never arrived, and her clubs came late, forcing her to practice with the different clubs until Wednesday afternoon. Once her own clubs came, a mix-and-match game determined what clubs she would use for the championship. Kim and her father, Young, spent much of the week shopping in Newport for outfits to wear for the championship. And to top it off, she had to borrow golf shoes.

But for a 14-year-old, it's hard to complain about new clothes.

"Everything's been free," she remarked joyously in regards to her time at the Open.

"It wasn't a big deal," she added regarding the clubs. "I got to play with the clubs because we had an extra day (due to Thursday's fog delay). The course is playing really long, though. I had to hit irons I hadn't hit in a while."

While Kim seemed to be happy with her putting, her caddy, Matt Hall, was a little less confident.

"I thought I was putting pretty well today," she said, then looked at Hall. "No? No, it wasn't that good."

"She only missed two fairways," Hall said. "Her misses were tolerable. She hit six greens in the front and six greens in the back. She was smiling, talking about what 14-year-olds talk about."

Kim, a former Big Island resident who moved to Mesa, Ariz., added that her favorite part of the Open so far has been the "breakfast burritos, and the Dove Bars."

KANEKO AGGRESSIVE

Kaneko didn't double-bogey a single hole yesterday. Unfortunately, she didn't birdie any, either. She had only three pars on the front nine, compared to six on the back.

"It was not so good," she said. "My swing was a little off today."

The 16-year-old from Sacred Hearts Academy hasn't given up, however.

"I'm having a good experience," she said. "I'm not playing it safe. I just want to make the cut. I have to stay aggressive."

Kaneko also hit 12 of the 14 fairways on the course, which played especially long due to the moisture and the brisk winds that swirled throughout the course. She hit only five of 18 greens in regulation, however.

"It's difficult," she said of the course. "Every time I have to hit, I have to hit it straight and on the fairways ... the greens are not so fast but the pin position was pretty difficult."

Kaneko later commented that maybe this is the hardest course she has ever played. Still, the experience is what counts for the amateur, and she has said it's been nothing but positive, and meeting her idol helped matters greatly.

"I was practicing chipping," she said, "and Annika (Sorenstam) was practicing right next to me. She's always been my hero ... I was a little bit scared."

KONO HAPPY WITH PUTTS

Kono also said that the course was very challenging.

"The course is really tough," she said. "If you don't hit the ball straight, you're in trouble."

She said that "nothing was really going well," and the stats might agree. She ranked 148th out of the 155 golfers with seven bogeys and two double-bogeys, failing to record a birdie as well. She hit nine of 14 fairways and only seven greens in regulation.

"I just think my timing was off," she said. "I was a little bit nervous."

The awe of the circumstances may have been a factor, she admitted.

"When I hit a great shot at the Open, I'm like, 'Wow,' " she said. "I had nothing to lose, so I just whacked it around for a while, and that seemed like it worked pretty good."

Kono said the putter was probably the most consistent part of the game.

"I made some pretty good 6-footers," she said.

Kono's caddy and coach, Kevin Ralbovsky, was encouraged by the youngster's outing on the biggest stage in women's golf.

"She knows that this is a stepping stone, a learning experience," he said. "She really kept her composure well. The course was tough and it was windy, but she was able to keep her composure well through bad shots and bad luck."