Okino works to get winning form back
Around the Greens
By Bill Kwon
Cyd Okino never heard of the sophomore jinx, a term used to define a disappointing follow-up after a break-out rookie year. But she's glad that she's now a junior at Punahou School and hopes her winless year is just superstition and an aberration.
So much has been expected of Okino, "Cyd the Kid," as a junior golf prodigy a la Michelle Wie. She even bettered Wie's record as the youngest women's state open champion by winning the 2006 title two months before her 13th birthday. And she delivered in her first year of playing high school golf, leading Punahou to the 2008 state championship after winning honors as the Interscholastic League of Honolulu player of the year and individual champion as a ninth-grader.
But Okino is 0-for-2009 and has fallen off the radar screen, leading many to wonder what happened to her or speculating that maybe she found other interests, you know, like boys.
"A lot of people asked me that," said Okino during a break between classes. "It's weird. My swing felt fine, everything felt fine. It was probably my mental game. I wasn't as confident and I just didn't have that fire in me. My mind was like, whatever."
It wasn't a matter of being into boys, according to Okino. She wasn't even into golf.
"Let's just say it was hard for me to be, like, super-motivated. It was like I accomplished so much during freshman year. There was more pressure, I guess, trying to do better, or just as good, than the year before," she said.
"Making it to the U.S. (Women's) Open and playing in all the USGA events in one year (2008) without having to qualify for them was just super, amazing. And then when I reached sophomore year in high school golf, I was, like, (ILH) player of the year, won ILH individual. I wanted to do like the same, win individual and I wanted to win states but there was so much pressure on me, I guess. So, I guess, my game kind of slowly faded."
After what has happened to her game this year, there's no pressure now, says Okino. "I'm going into next year with more confidence because I know can do better than this year. I've been working on my game. I'm striking the ball a lot better, hitting more clean shots. My chipping is getting better, my putting is still good."
More important, she's got that desire, that old fire, back. She still can turn her game around before the year is out with a victory in the Hawai'i State Open, which will be played at the Turtle Bay Resort on Dec. 18 to 20. It's an event she has won three consecutive years.
"It'll be a challenge because I want to win four in a row, which will be another record. Even if I don't win, I just want to shoot three good scores. That's what my goal is. Winning, of course, would be great. But because I didn't win anything this past year, I just hope to shoot well."
Okino watched as other young golfers grabbed the spotlight this year, including 14-year-old Kacie Komoto, who won the Hawai'i State Women's Golf Association Stroke Play Championship, and Allisen Corpuz, 11, who broke Okino's record as the youngest to win the HSWGA Match Play Championship.
"Allisen has no fear. She just goes to the ball and hits it straight all the time," said Okino. "When I think about it, when I was younger I did the same. There's no pressure beating someone older than you. When I was younger, I was beating all those older people. Now there are all these younger golfers. Oh, my God, now they're beating me. Now I know how all my older friends that I beat feel," she said laughing.
Any advice for Allisen? "I would just say keep doing what she's doing. If her mind is still strong and she still has that fire in her, she'll do great. Her chipping and putting is amazing. Her putting is like on fire all the time. She just had to keep her mind strong, basically," said Okino, speaking from experience despite her tender years. She won't turn 16 until Dec. 5.
Also, Okino won't need added motivation. She has made a verbal commitment to the University of Washington, which offered a full scholarship for five years. "I'm looking forward to college life," said Okino, who initially wanted to go to a school in California like UCLA, Pepperdine or Santa Clara. But only Washington offered a full ride, which swayed the family's decision.
She's the only child of Cyrus and Lori Okino. "Mom's always there for me," said Cyd. "If I don't do well, she never shows it. My dad? Oh, oh."
Okino is thankful that she's an only child. "My parents told me that if I ever had a brother or a sister, I wouldn't be playing golf because of the amount of money it costs. It can be more stress but you get more attention. (And) I wouldn't even be coming to Punahou if I had a sibling."
Cyd and her father had a difference of opinion two years ago when she had a $250,000 offer from Japan to turn pro after high school. But she really wanted to go to college, which she thought was a big enough step. "I didn't think my game would be ready if I turned pro out of high school," said Okino, whose decision prevailed.
Clearly, Cyd's no kid any more.