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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 17, 2009

The new 'Kid' shares lead in Jennie K.

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kristina Merkle

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Allisen Corpuz

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LANIKAI — As a point of reference, Cyd "The Kid" Okino shot 41 on the back nine at the 59th annual Jennie K. Wilson Invitational yesterday. The combined ages of the three golfers in the thick of things when the final round begins today— including Okino — is 43.

Aside from a couple late hiccups, Allisen Corpuz (73) and Kristina Merkle (70) were pretty close to perfect, again, and share the lead at 1-under 143. Okino's three birdies in her final four holes left her two back at Mid-Pacific Country Club.

Corpuz, a Punahou fifth-grader, won 10-year-old national (Optimist International) and state championships the past two years. Last summer, the 11-year-old broke Michelle Wie's record as youngest to play in a USGA championship.

Merkle, a two-time Jennie K. champion who just won her second state high school title, caught Corpuz at 3-under on their 12th hole (No. 3) yesterday. The Moanalua senior headed to Tulsa was a bogey-free 4-under for the day at that point, but was bedeviled by a bunker on the next hole.

"I hit the bunker shot too hard and then I hit the putt too hard," Merkle said. "And then I hit the other putt not hard at all. That's how you get a double bogey."

Then Corpuz finally blinked. After blissfully playing her first 14 holes in 1-under, she missed the next two greens and couldn't get up and down. Not that it bothered her. She smacked in 5-foot par putts on her final two holes to preserve a wire-to-wire possibility.

Okino, 15, was a shot back of the precocious Corpuz after the first round. Her bad back nine yesterday had her seven behind at the turn, but the fast finish left her hopeful of adding the first Hawai'i women's major of the year to her three State Open championships and two State Match Play titles.

Just as another form of reference, Okino became the youngest match play champion in history when she won at age 11 in 2005, breaking Stephanie Kono's record by two weeks. The youngest Jennie K. champion is Wie, who won in 2001, at age 11.

What is it about 11?

"I think they just don't know any better," said Kevin Ralbovsky, Corpuz's coach and caddie. "They don't have the bad memories. They're not afraid. A lot of this is new and exciting to them. They see the target and just hit it."

If it's exciting for Corpuz to have adults chase her instead of kids, she hides it: "It's just older people and they are pretty good," she said. "I just focus on putting and attitude — don't get mad out there."

She made Merkle wish for younger days. "I wish I played that well when I was 11," she said. "It's really nice to see someone so young playing like that, so refreshing. It makes me feel old."

Defending champion Xyra Suyetsugu rallied with a 72 yesterday. Suyetsugu, who played for the University of Hawai'i, also graduated yesterday.