Young guns have taken over
By Bill Kwon
This year's Hawai'i State Open beginning tomorrow at the Turtle Bay Resort boasts its best field ever. No ands, ifs or buts.
David Ishii just wishes more golf fans would drive out to the North Shore to see the likes of the PGA Tour's Dean Wilson, Tadd Fujikawa, two-time NAIA individual champion Sam Cyr, Aloha Section PGA player of the year Kevin Hayashi, former University of Hawai'i star Jarett Hamamoto, who made it to the final stage of this year's PGA Q-School, and defending champion Nick Mason. Yes, also Ishii, who won the state open three times before going on to win the 1990 United Airlines Hawaiian Open.
Ishii remembers large galleries watching the Hawai'i State Open when it was held at the Ala Wai Golf Course years before and after his victory there in 1980. He won again in 1984-'85 at Sheraton Mäkaha with less fanfare.
"To me, when it was at Ala Wai, there was more of a tournament atmosphere because people used to come and watch. It's easy to watch at Ala Wai — certain holes all by the clubhouse and so there were a lot of people around the greens like that. That added to the excitement, you know it's more exciting when people are watching," Ishii said.
"Nowadays we play on courses that are far away, sometimes on Neighbor Islands, and resort courses, which is good. We play good courses, but you don't get a lot of people watching anymore. It's not as easy to walk and follow at some of the courses. To me, that's the thing that's lacking nowadays."
There's also another difference, says Ishii, now a graybeard at 54, and reminiscing about the good old days.
"When I was growing up, all the guys who brought attention to the local tournaments were established guys like Allan Yamamoto, John Kalinka, Palmer Lawrence. The older players were the stronger players. Now, the kids are the stronger players. The game has turned around, flip-flopped," said Ishii, citing today's technology and equipment as the major reasons. "The clubs were heavier before and the (younger) players had a harder time. Now the clubs are lighter, the balls go farther so the kids hit longer now."
The young guns have taken over, according to Ishii. "Ryo (Ishikawa) is now the main draw in Japan. Before it was Jumbo (Ozaki), (Isao) Aoki and (Tommy) Nakajima. Here, it's Michelle Wie, Tadd Fujikawa, Lorens Chan."
It's a sobering change, according to Ishii. "Growing up, we used to say, 'Oh, wow,' when we saw guys like Allan and Kalinka. But now, these kids are not in awe of the older players. The kids are good now and they want to turn pro as soon as they can."
Been there and done that for Ishii, ever since he won the state individual golf championship in 1973 as a senior at Kaua'i High School. He led Houston to the 1977 NCAA championship, won every major tournament locally and played on the Japan PGA Tour, winning 14 events and earning more than $8 million. Using some of that money, Ishii set up a foundation that now sponsors the state high school golf championships.
He's still playing senior events in Japan and won twice in October — the 54-hole Fubon Senior Open in Taiwan in a field that included Aoki and Massy Kuramoto, and the Asahi Ryoken Cup Invitational, a 36-hole unofficial event, in Fukuoka.
And further showing that golf is now a young man's game, Ishii isn't sure if he'll try to qualify for the Sony Open in Hawai'i next month at Waialae Country Club, scene of his 1990 PGA triumph that earned him a Masters invitation.
"I don't know, I was thinking about it," Ishii said. "I didn't finish up too good (in his last tournament) and I'm getting tired. I don't think I could make it through the tournament if I qualified. I'll be tired before the tournament starts. You got to play two qualifiers, you got to play practice rounds, if you make it. By the time you do all that, you're all pooped out already."
But Ishii hopes to show the young golfers in the Turtle Bay Resort Hawai'i State Open this weekend that he's still got game.