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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 29, 2006

It's a senior moment in Manoa Cup final

Manoa cup photo gallery

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Playing in windy and rainy conditions, Gary Kong powers his drive off the 17th tee at the Oahu Country Club.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Suddenly, in a Hawai'i golf world gone kid crazy, these old guys rock.

Plumbing and waterworks sales rep Gary Kong and Tip Top Cafe general manager Jonathan Ota busted out of their mild-mannered personalities and years of Manoa Cup frustration with victories in yesterday afternoon's semifinals at Oahu Country Club.

Kong, 53, will try to become the oldest champion in the Cup's 98-year history in today's 7 a.m. final. Ota, 44, will try to stop him over the 36-hole hike up and down Nu'uanu Valley.

That they are in the final is not shocking based on their golf. Ota reached the semifinals five years ago. He won the 2004 OCC Invitational championship by a shot over Kong, who has been an OCC member nearly 40 years and lost in the 1979 Manoa Cup final.

What is surprising is that the two new yoga aficionados have survived the physical pounding. For the last four years students have dominated Manoa Cup, in part because the state's match play champion must walk every moment of a grueling week that can involve 150 holes. In yesterday's semifinals, OCC's hills and valleys were made even tougher by gusting wind and rain.

The squalls blew through until Ota finished off 2004 finalist Shannon Tanoue, 3 and 1, by winning their final three holes the last two conceded and the first decisive. Ota rolled his approach shot to 3 feet on the 15th after Tanoue's birdie had tied it the previous hole.

"I was up early and he came back and we traded and it came out even," Ota said. "But the decisive hole was the birdie on 15 to go 1-up. The 16th was playing so tough in the wind and I just tried to make par, but the 15th was the key hole when I stuck that shot."

Kong and University of Hawai'i senior Pierre-Henri Soero the youngest semifinalist at 22 and the highest remaining seed at No. 3 were right behind in a match just as close. They caught the final downpour, which stayed with them from the 17th fairway to the 18th green.

Their match was even through 15, with Kong sinking a crucial 10-foot birdie putt on that hole to match Soero's two-putt birdie. Kong had rallied tenaciously after going 2-down in the first three holes, but Soero's putting was so graceful under pressure that he never fell behind.

"He never missed a putt inside 8 feet," Kong said. "He made a lot of them."

Kong took the advantage for the first time with par on the 16th. Both bogeyed the next hole in terrible conditions, then Kong stood on the 18th tee with a brutal wind in his face and horizontal waves of rain soaking him.

"It goes like that here every so often," Kong said with a grin. "I enjoy playing in the wind."

Kong slapped his drive with an abbreviated swing over the gully and short right into the fairway. Soero, needing to win the hole to extend the match, took a regular swing that went radically wrong. His drive hooked into the first tree of a bank that lines the left side.

He took a drop behind the hazard near the 17th green and hit more trees on his way back to the fairway. His fourth shot sailed long and left. Kong punched short and pitched just behind the pin in three. When Soero's fifth shot slid by the hole he conceded the match, 2-up.

"This is a surprise," Kong said. "It's senior week."

Tanoue, 28, had taken out Seabury Hall freshman Robert Greenleaf in a 3-and-2 morning quarterfinal. Greenleaf, 14, was attempting to become the youngest Manoa Cup champion.

Ota beat Gonzaga junior Reyn Tanaka and Soero edged Steven Matsuno by 2-and-1 scores. Kong ousted Craig Uyehara, 4 and 3.

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com.