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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006

Win puts Watabu's pro plans on hold

 •  Manoa Cup tweaks schedule for this year
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 •  Holes in one
 •  Golf notices

By Bill Kwon

Casey Watabu, rear, hugged his caddie, John Cassidy, after clinching the Public Links championship.

JIM BRYANT | Associated Press

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Golfer Year

Guy Yamamoto 1995

David Ishii 1990

Stan Souza 1977

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It's just starting to sink in on Casey Watabu that he will be playing in the Masters.

Watabu is only the fourth golfer from Hawai'i ever to play in, arguably, the sport's most prestigious major. Certainly, it is the game's most exclusive major.

By winning the U.S. Men's Amateur Public Links championship in Bremerton, Wash., last week, the 22-year-old Kapa'a native received a special invitation from the Augusta National Golf Club.

Watabu's mom, Iris, checked the Masters Web site. Sure enough, there was Casey's name already listed among the invitees.

"My mom was freaking out when she saw it," said Watabu, who is home for the summer.

Who can blame her, or dad, Victor?

Even if they were on hand to see him win the title in Saturday's 36-hole final against Anthony Kim, 21, an All-American at the University of Oklahoma.

They flew to Seattle on Friday night after Watabu told them to come over following his victory in the semifinal earlier that afternoon.

Did Watabu have a gut feeling that he was going to win?

"No," he said. "I told them to come up because they were always following me since I was young. I knew they were going to have a good time. The people were so nice and it was a first-class tournament at a beautiful golf course."

Besides, according to Watabu, his mindset all week wasn't to look ahead, but to play each match, one hole at a time. He figured that was the key to his success.

"I didn't get ahead of myself. I stayed in the present and focused on what I had to do, hole and hole," he said.

"I really didn't put too much pressure on myself. I never got caught up in what I was going to do the next day. I didn't try to put up any numbers. I just told myself to go out there and have fun. And I did."

It was a special week and a special Saturday, especially with his parents there.

The Watabus were picked up at the airport by Art Fujita, the USGA liaison from Kaua'i. They got to the Gold Mountain Golf Club course after the morning 18 had started and followed Casey the rest of the match.

"We didn't say anything because we didn't want to ruin his concentration," Victor said. But it was a time of joyous celebration when it was over.

"It's been crazy. The phone has been ringing off the hook ever since," said Watabu, who received congratulatory calls from everywhere, including his University of Nevada friends.

Watabu had planned to turn pro after graduating in December. He needs only one more class no, it won't be ball-room dancing, but on evolution to get his degree in biology.

Now, his pro plans are on hold. He needs to remain an amateur to play in the Masters next April.

"I gotta wait now," said Watabu, knowing full well that it's an opportunity and experience he can't refuse. The others from Hawai'i to play in the Masters are Guy Yamamoto (1995), David Ishii (1990) and Stan Souza (1977).

With his Publinks victory, Watabu also earned an exemption to the U.S. Amateur championship at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., Aug. 21 to 27.

He probably will play in the local qualifying Aug. 2 at the Pearl Country Club "just for practice."

Otherwise, the only other O'ahu sighting for Hawai'i's newest national golf champion will be at the Oahu Country Club when he will be watching his younger brother, Kellen, in the Manoa Cup next week.

Two years ago when he teamed with PGA professional Jerry Kelly to win the First Hawaiian Bank Pro Junior Tournament at the Waialae Country Club, Kellen said his golf idol wasn't Tiger Woods but his brother, Casey.

"He still is," said Kellen, who recently graduated from Kaua'i High School and will be enrolling at the University of Nevada this fall.

Casey figures Wolf Pack golf coach Richard Merritt will be glad to see another Watabu on the roster.

"He earned a spot. It wasn't like it was because of me," said Casey, who is older by 4 1/2 years.

Indeed, Kellen captured the 2005 Hawai'i High School Athletic Association David S. Ishii Foundation state golf tournament.

It's a name that a lot of old-time baseball fans will remember.

Their grandfather, Brown Watabu, who died several years ago, was an outstanding catcher for the Rural Red Sox of the old Hawai'i Baseball League.

Brown's two sons, Victor and Vincent, later played baseball for Waipahu High School and in the Honolulu AJA League.

The Watabus are still talented with a stick in their hands, this time with a golf club instead of a baseball bat.

Casey is also continuing another tradition in Garden Island golf.

He follows two other Kaua'i natives, Yamamoto and Ishii, who also took their first golf steps at the Wailua Golf Course.

It was also at Wailua where Randy Barenaba won the 1975 National Public Links championship, the year after his brother Charles won the title in Pasadena, Calif. The two from Kahuku are the only brothers to win back-to-back titles in the 80-year history of that USGA championship.

And where did Watabu qualify to go to this year's Publinks?

You guessed it. Wailua.