50th Mid-Pacific Open attracts historic field
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By Bill Kwon
By Bill Kwon
This year's Mid-Pacific Open is something special, not only because it is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
For one thing, 80 pros — the largest field ever — are entered, including defending champion Darren Summers, who beat Kevin Hayashi in a two-hole playoff last year. "I'm looking forward to defending. It's a great tournament with a rich history and some great names on the trophy," said the 33-year-old Scot, who's back at Kapalua, Maui, after a brief fling on the Adams Tour last summer was curtailed by a knee injury.
Hayashi is back again, trying to add the only local major missing in his winning resume. "Still trying," said Hayashi, a teaching pro at the Mauna Kea Resort, who has finished runner-up five times at the demanding Lanikai course. "Every year is tough for me. That course is one of the toughest statewide, especially that it's four days."
It won't get any easier for Hayashi this year. Also entered is Tadd Fujikawa, who will be playing in his first tournament locally — other than the PGA's Sony Open — since turning pro. He played in two previous Mid-Pac Opens as an amateur.
"I'm pretty excited. It should be good for me, get me in a tournament mode for Japan," said Fujikawa, who will play in two Japan PGA events next month. Fujikawa returns home today after spending several days in Sea Island, Ga., working with his golf instructors, including swing coach Todd Anderson.
"I'm working on my game. It's coming along well. I'm seeing a lot of improvement," said the 17-year-old Moanalua High School junior.
"It's good that Tadd is playing," said Hayashi, welcoming the top-flight competition that will include past champions David Ishii, the only three-peat winner Regan Lee, John Lynch, Casey Nakama, Beau Yokomoto, Larry Stubblefield, Lance Suzuki and Brandan Kop, the last amateur to win the 72-hole event in 1995, denying Suzuki his ninth Mid-Pac Open title.
"It's tough for amateurs to win because it's a four-day tournament against the best pros in the state," said Kop, the only other amateur to win the Mid-Pac Open besides Wendell Tom, who did it in 1982, beating Suzuki, who else?
Kop was reminded by Ishii that there will be pressure on him to win it this year as a new inductee into the Hawai'i Golf Hall of Fame along with Lori Castillo. Ishii won the Mid-Pac Open right after being selected in 2006 and Stubblefield triumphed in 2001 the day before being officially inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"David called to say congratulations and then he told me, 'Now you got to win,' " said Kop, surprised by the honor.
"I thought he (Aloha Section PGA president Matt Hall) was joking. I wasn't prepared. I figured, maybe down the road, but not now," said Kop, 47. The ASPGA lowered the minimum-age requirement from 50 to 45 this year. Kop becomes the third generation in the Kop family to attain the elite group, joining grandfather Guinea and uncle Wendell.
Kop recalls feeling no pressure when he won the Mid-Pac Open. "I figured Lance was going to win. I was just trying to win the championship flight (for amateurs)."
It was only after he got on the green in two at the 72nd hole with a four-stroke lead over Suzuki that Kop realized he could win.
It'll be difficult for Kop not only to win this year but to take low-amateur honors. Among the top amateurs in the field are junior golf standouts Bradley Shigezawa (Punahou School), low amateur in last year's Hawai'i State Open, Maryknoll's Alex Chu, 'Iolani School's Lorens Chan, and TJ Kua and Alika Bell of Kamehameha Schools.
The biggest news about Mid-Pac's big 5-0 will be a historic first: It'll feature the first females to play in the event as Stephanie Kono and Anna Jang, the 2007 state high school girls champion, received committee exemptions.
The sponsoring Mid-Pacific Country Club revised its rules earlier this year to allow the two Punahou students to play as amateurs in the professional flight. They are not eligible for the championship flight, which will continue to be for males only, according to tournament chairman Mike Kawaharada.
The thinking, Kawaharada said, is that the club already has an amateur championship tournament for women in the Jennie K. Wilson Invitational. Prior to the revision, the club policy prohibited Michelle Wie from playing in the men's-only Mid-Pac Open five years ago.
No matter what flight she's in, Kono is eager to tee it up not only against the men, but professionals.
"I'm looking forward to it. I know the course is extremely hard during that tournament but, hopefully, I will be able to manage the course OK. I'm just hoping to have a good experience. I'm going to try and go out there and play my own game and play a little decently," said Kono, who won the 2003 Jennie K. as a 13-year-old.
Will that help, having won there?
"I like the course. But that was from the red tees. That's quite a bit different," said Kono, realistic about her chances. It was Ishii, who gave her the idea to send in an application to the Mid-Pac Open.
"My next tournament is at the end of May. I don't have anything in between," said Kono, who will play in an American Junior Golf Association tournament in Arizona then. She finished tied for third with Kimberly Kim in the AJGA Heather Farr Classic won by Maui's Kyung Kim two weeks ago in Mesa, Ariz.
"She played really well all three days. The course played kind of tough. I hit the ball well and placed the ball well but I didn't make a lot of putts," said Kono, whose final-round 71 was inflated by 36 putts.
A two-time Interscholastic League of Honolulu champion, Kono hasn't played high school golf for the last two years, except for one tournament during spring break this year because it would have meant missing a lot of classes.
"It's gone by so quickly," Kono said about her senior year, which has a little more than two months left before she heads to UCLA this fall. "I'm trying to enjoy every day being with my friends."
Stephanie, Tadd, Kevin, David, Brandan. The 50th Mid-Pac Open two weeks from now will be a blast. It all starts with a champions' dinner April 15. As an eight-time champ, Suzuki should get extra portions.
Ayaka Kaneko, a Sacred Hearts Academy senior who made the cut in the LPGA Fields Open in Hawai'i, received sponsor's exemptions to two Japan LPGA events — the Fujisankei Ladies' Classic, April 25-27, at the Kawana Hotel Golf Course in Shizuoka and the Crystal Geyser Ladies' Golf Tournament, May 2-4, at the Keiyo Country Club in Chiba.
Bill Kwon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org